Suspect's friend wants jurors asked about bombings

By Denise Lavoie, Associated Press | Posted - Jun. 19, 2014 at 2:21 p.m.

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BOSTON (AP) — Lawyers for a friend of Boston Marathon bombing suspect Dzhokhar Tsarnaev want potential jurors in his trial to be carefully screened on their feelings about Tsarnaev, Muslims and the deadly attack itself.

Azamat Tazhayakov is scheduled to go on trial June 30 on obstruction of justice charges. Prosecutors say he was one of two friends who removed items from Tsarnaev's dorm room after the bombings, while authorities were still looking for Tsarnaev and his brother, Tamerlan Tsarnaev.

Twin bombings near the finish line of the 2013 marathon killed three people and injured more than 260. Tamerlan Tsarnaev died following a shootout with police several days later. Dzhokhar Tsarnaev is scheduled to go on trial in November.

A proposed juror questionnaire filed in court this week asks potential jurors about the effects of the bombings and whether they believe they can be fair and impartial to Tazhayakov, who is not accused of knowing about the bombings ahead of time or playing any role in the attack.

"Were you, a family member, or a close friend impacted in ANY way (physically, emotionally or mentally) by the Boston Marathon bombing?" is one of the suggested questions.

Potential jurors are also asked if they or anyone close to them has ever expressed an opinion about the guilt or innocence of Tsarnaev and his friends, including Tazhayakov.

"Do you believe that the Boston Marathon bombing was part of a group conspiracy larger than just the two brothers who have been accused of carrying it out?" reads another question.

Other questions ask potential jurors about their attitudes toward Muslims and whether they are more likely to commit crimes than non-Muslims. Tazhayakov is a Muslim from Kazakhstan. The Tsarnaevs, also Muslims, lived in Kyrgyzstan and Russia before moving to the United States. Prosecutors allege the Tsarnaevs carried out the attack in retaliation for U.S. actions in Muslim countries.

Tazhayakov and Dias Kadyrbayev are accused of removing a backpack containing fireworks and a laptop computer from Dzhokhar Tsarnaev's dorm room at the University of Massachusetts-Dartmouth three days after the bombings. All three were students at UMass. Kadyrbayev faces a separate trial in September.

A third friend, Robel Phillipos, is accused of lying to investigators. He also faces a September trial.

In their proposed questionnaire, Tazhayakov's lawyers ask a range of questions about potential jurors' connections to the marathon, including whether they have ever run or watched the iconic race. The questionnaire also asks potential jurors if they participated in any kind of vigil, rally or fundraiser related to the marathon bombings.

In a separate court filing, federal prosecutors objected to some of the questions submitted by Tazhayakov's lawyers, including those about Tazhayakov's religious affiliation, "which the defendant has sought to exclude and the government does not intend to introduce."

Prosecutors, in their proposed questionnaire, ask more general questions, including: "The indictment in this case alleges that the defendant obstructed the Boston Marathon bombing investigation. Can you put aside anything that you have read or seen on any media outlets about the bombing or the obstruction investigation and decide this case based only on the information presented during the trial?"

The questionnaire also asks potential jurors if they personally know a victim of the bombings. And like Tazhayakov's lawyers, they also want potential jurors asked if anyone they know was affected in any way by the bombings.

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Denise Lavoie


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