BOSTON — Lawyers for Boston Marathon bombing suspect Dzhokhar Tsarnaev have asked to move his upcoming trial from Boston, proposing Washington, D.C., as the new location.
In a motion filed in U.S. District Court late Wednesday, Tsarnaev’s public defenders said a survey of potential jurors in Boston, Springfield, New York City and Washington suggests the nation’s capital would be a more suitable location for a trial.
The lawyers, who cautioned that they still need more time to study the issue, said Boston residents were the “most prejudiced” on a number of critical measures, based on the May survey’s preliminary findings.
Among Boston respondents aware of the case, they said, nearly 58 percent “definitely” believed Tsarnaev was guilty and 37 percent believed that if convicted he deserved the death penalty. More than 50 percent of Boston respondents said they or someone they knew had participated in or attended last year’s marathon, at which three people were killed and more than 260 others were injured.
About 37 percent of Washington residents surveyed “definitely” believed Tsarnaev was guilty, 19 percent said he deserved the death penalty and about 12 percent said they or someone they knew had participated in or attended the marathon.
Prosecutors say Tsarnaev and his brother planted two bombs that exploded near the finish line of the 2013 marathon. His brother died following a shootout with police several days later.
Tsarnaev has pleaded not guilty to 30 federal charges. His trial is expected to begin in November.
Tsarnaev’s lawyers said their motion has precedent: They noted that “tremendous local impact and galvanizing community reaction” prompted the trial of Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh to be transferred to Denver in 1996.
The lawyers argue that the marathon bombings present an even greater impact to the Boston-area community.
They pointed to the “trauma” of the four-day police search, capped by the dramatic final day, on which thousands of Boston-area residents were ordered to shelter in place until Tsarnaev was found.
Defense lawyers also noted the intense and sustained media coverage after the bombings and the ever-present “Boston Strong” billboards, T-shirts and other paraphernalia.
The request to change trial venues capped a busy day in the case.
Earlier, U.S. District Court Judge George O’Toole ruled that “betrayal of the United States” should not be among the factors prosecutors cite when arguing whether Tsarnaev, who lived in the former Soviet republic of Kyrgyzstan and in Russia before moving to the U.S., gets the death penalty if convicted.
The judge said it was “highly inappropriate” for prosecutors to draw a distinction between a “naturalized” and a “natural-born” U.S. citizen.
Federal prosecutors have argued, in part, that Tsarnaev, 20, deserves the death penalty because he betrayed his allegiance to the country that granted him asylum and later citizenship.
Tsarnaev’s attorneys have said the argument is unprecedented in death penalty cases.
The judge on Wednesday also denied a request by Tsarnaev’s lawyers to allow them to meet with their client and his sisters in prison without federal agents present. Instead, prosecutors agreed to have an FBI agent or other federal official not assigned to the case monitor the meetings, for security purposes.
And the judge issued a stern warning to prosecutors about former or current members of their team speaking to the media. The warning came after the defense objected to interviews retired FBI agents gave around the April anniversary of the bombings. Prosecutors said the interviews contained information already public.