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Boston Marathon bomber’s lawyers want appeals court to grant new trial, overturn death penalty

Screenshot from security video from Cell 4 in U.S. District Court for the District of Massachusetts (United States Marshals Service/WikiCommons)

Lawyers for Dzhokhar Tsarnaev had one hour Thursday to attempt to convince a federal appeals court on more than a dozen points that Tsarnaev’s convictions and death sentence in the 2013 Boston Marathon bombings should be overturned.

Attorney Daniel Habib argued on Tsarnaev’s behalf before the First District Court of Appeals in Boston’s U.S. District Court, while Assistant U.S. Attorney William Glaser had one hour to respond to the appeal brewing since Tsarnaev’s 2015 conviction on 30 counts and on six capital offenses.

Tsarnaev’s taxpayer-paid legal team, in a series of briefs spanning hundreds of pages, has argued the trial should have been moved out of Boston to avoid a tainted jury pool.

“The publicity of the Marathon bombing in the Boston community was unparalleled in American legal history,” Tsarnaev’s lawyers wrote. “If a presumption of prejudice is not warranted here, then where?”

Lawyers, among specific 15 arguments, have also focused on Juror 286, the foreperson who hid bombing-related Twitter posts including one calling Tsarnaev a “piece of garbage,” which they argue should result in a new trial. Tsarnaev’s attorneys also protested Senior Judge George O’Toole’s refusal to admit evidence of his dead brother and fellow bomber Tamerlan Tsarnaev’s alleged involvement in an unsolved Waltham triple-murder in 2011.

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The government, in a 431-page brief in June, refuted Tsarnaev’s allegations of an unfair trial, calling his arguments, specifically the Waltham triple-murder, an unnecessary distraction for the jury. Prosecutors cited the wide-ranging jury pool in eastern Massachusetts and argue individual jurors’ alleged faults do not warrant a new trial or overturning of the convictions and death sentence.

Tsarnaev, currently on death row in the Supermax prison in Colorado, isn’t expected to attend. Relatives of victims of the bombings will be in attendance, although it is unclear if families of the three people killed will attend.

Bill and Denise Richard, whose son Martin was killed in the attacks, and who this summer opened a park in Martin’s name a short walk from the U.S. District Courthouse, previously called on prosecutors to take the death penalty “off the table.”

A spokeswoman for the Martin Richard Foundation did not return a request for comment.

Liz Norden, whose two sons lost legs in the bombings, told the Herald last week she expects to get closure Thursday.

“I still wonder if I’ll ever get justice. I hope I live long enough to see it,” she said. “I’ve struggled with the idea of the death penalty, but he deserves it.”

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© 2019 the Boston Herald