BOSTON — The first group of about 200 people reported to the jury assembly hall inside Moakley Courthouse in downtown Boston on Monday morning. Every person is a possible juror who will hear the case against 21-year-old Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, the accused Boston Marathon bomber.
Around 9:15, Judge George O'Toole entered the hall followed by the prosecution team, defense team, and Tsarnaev.
Tsarnaev sat slouching, wearing a dark-red button-down shirt under a dark sweater, and was flanked by two of his all-star lawyers, Miriam Conrad and Judy Clarke. Tsarnaev's hair was long, curly and disheveled. His beard, sparse, longest around his pointy chin. His left eye appeared badly swollen and he rubbed it frequently.
O'Toole read off a list of instructions to the wave of prospective jurors. The judge's orders will include no discussion of social media postings about the case until after the jurors have been excused or, if selected for the jury, after the trial is completed.
O'Toole emphasized that if Tsarnaev is found guilty, ultimately, it will be the jury's decision — not the judge's — whether to impose the death penalty or sentence him to life in prison without parole. This is a federal death penalty case even though Massachusetts abolished capital punishment three decades ago.
The judge told the group that the tentative trial start date is Monday, Jan. 26, and is expected to run three to four months.
O'Toole thanked the jury pool multiple times for being there. "We need your help," the judge said toward the end of his remarks.
Questionnaires were then distributed to the jury pool, along with a list of possible witnesses in the case; prospective jurors were told to circle the names of anyone on the list they know.
As he left the jury assembly hall, Tsarnaev was taken into custody by the court marshals. His defense team and the government lawyers exchanged pleasantries outside the hall and then went their separate ways.
At 1 p.m., the selection process repeated itself. As Tsarnaev sat listening, Judge O'Toole gave the same rundown to another 200 people called to serve.
Tsarnaev appeared to be smirking as he entered the jury assembly hall for the afternoon session. The defendant was dressed more casually in a dark-gray sweater. At the second session, he fidgeted less and seemed less bothered by his injured eye.
Tsarnaev is tall and thin and walked with a swagger, swaying his shoulders, as he exited the proceedings.
About 1,200 citizens of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts have been ordered to adjust their schedules to potentially sit for the trial. In total, more than 3,000 people received summonses as the court attempts to seat a jury in the same city where the April 15, 2013, bombing that killed three and maimed more than 260 took place.
The official start of the trial marks an end to a long waiting period both for the nation and especially the family of the deceased and runners injured during the April 15, 2013, attack.
Tsarnaev's lawyers tried every maneuver the United States legal system afforded them to keep the trial from getting underway this week, including motions in the final days of 2014 to stay the jury selection, move the trial, and delay the start from January to September 2015. Ultimately the court of appeals and presiding Judge George O'Toole — who had already delayed the start of the trial from November 2014 to January 2015 and denied one motion by the defense to move the trial to Washington, D.C. — were not moved by the Tsarnaev team's arguments.
Jury selection is expected to take weeks, and the courthouse is under heavy security.
Prosecutors have accused Dzhokhar and Tamerlan Tsarnaev, both ethnic Chechens, of the attack. Tamerlan died in a gunfight with police.
There was very little protesting outside Moakley Courthouse on Monday morning. Tsarnaev had petitioned the court to ask U.S. marshals to remove the conspiracy theorists from the area. On Monday, officers did just that.
Kath Xu, 19, a Massachusetts Institute of Technology student and news editor for the campus newspaper The Tech, said she and a team of four reporters plan to cover the trial, gavel to gavel. "We're here because we want to be able to report on this correctly and give this information firsthand to our community," Xu said.
Xu, a junior majoring in mechanical engineering, said she was on campus the night MIT Officer Sean Collier was shot and killed on April 18, 2013, three days after the marathon attack. The Tsarnaev brothers are accused of killing Collier while on the run from police. Dzhokhar Tsarnaev faces murder charges in Collier's death.
"[H]opefully it brings closure to more people, whatever happens at this trial, to know that he is facing charges," Xu said.