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Accused bomber to stand trial in Boston, panel rules

Appellate court says Tsarnaev's defense team failed to fulfill a legal requirement to have the trial moved

By Doug G. Ware

BOSTON, Feb. 28 (UPI) -- The surviving suspect in the deadly bombings at the Boston Marathon two years ago will be tried in Boston, an appeals panel decided late Friday -- declining a defense motion to have the prosecution moved out of the city.

The defense team for Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, 21, had asked the panel for a change of venue, arguing that selecting an impartial jury among Boston citizens poses an enormous challenge. Tsarnaev's attorneys believe the high-profile nature of the case makes it extremely difficult to find jurors who don't already have some preconceived ideas about their client's guilt or innocence.

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In a 2-to-1 vote Friday, Boston's 1st Circuit Court of Appeals rejected the motion, saying the defense team failed to meet the legal standard required to move a trial from its primary location.

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"We deny the [motion] because petitioner has not met the well-established standards for such relief and so we are forbidden by law from granting it," the three-judge panel said in its ruling.

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The panel said the defense failed to show that keeping the trial in Boston would cause irreparable harm to Tsarnaev.

In issuing its decision, the court cited an 1878 ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court that acknowledged pretrial publicity is typically present in any major criminal case.

"Scarcely any one can be found among those best fitted for jurors who has not read or heard of it, and who has not some impression or some opinion in respect to its merits," the Supreme Court ruled in Reynolds v. United States.

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Further, the appeals court said knowledge of a case does not equate prejudice.

"Distinguishing between the two is at the heart of the jury selection process," the decision read.

Prosecutors have said Boston is the best suitable location to try Tsarnaev, and the appellate court agreed. Defense attorneys can still appeal to the full court of appeals, but it's not yet known if they will do so.

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Tsarnaev is accused of planting two bombs on April 15, 2013 at the Boston Marathon with his brother, Tamerlan, which killed three and wounded more than 260 others when they detonated near the finish line. Krystle Campbell, 29, Lu Lingzi, 23, and Martin Richard, 8, died from the blasts. A Massachusetts Institute of Technology police officer, Sean Collier, 27, was shot and killed three days later as he sat in his patrol car on the college campus. Prosecutors believe the brothers sneaked up on Collier and shot him before unsuccessfully trying to take his firearm.

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A couple hours later, the suspects were tracked to Watertown by an anti-theft device in a stolen Mercedes they were driving. There, police say the brothers engaged in a chaotic firefight by shooting and lobbing explosive devices at officers -- turning the otherwise quiet residential neighborhood into a war zone. At the end of the fight, Tamerlan was tackled by police and Dzhokhar jumped in the stolen SUV. In making his escape, officials say, Dzhokhar violently ran over his brother and dragged him 30 feet down the road. Tamerlan died from his injuries and police say Dzhokhar was found hiding in a resident's boat nearby and arrested 21 hours later.

On the inner walls of the boat he was found in, investigators say Tsarnaev had scrawled "we Muslims are one body, you hurt one you hurt us all." The note went on to say, "you are fighting men who look into the barrel of your gun and see heaven, now how can you compete with that." Those words are expected to be introduced at trial.

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Jury selection in Tsarnaev's trial has already started and opening statements in the case are set to begin Wednesday. Prosecutors are seeking the death penalty. Tsarnaev has pleaded not guilty to all 30 felony counts, which include four murder charges, against him.

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