By Scott Malone
BOSTON (Reuters) - Jury selection in the trial of accused Boston Marathon bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev moves into a new phase Thursday as potential jurors are called back to court for in-person questioning by the judge hearing the case.
The process started last week when 1,350 people reported to U.S. District Court in Boston over three days to fill out questionnaires on topics that likely included their connection to the attack, which killed three people and injured more than 260, as well as their views on the death penalty.
Tsarnaev, 21, faces the threat of execution if convicted of carrying out the largest mass-casualty attack on U.S. soil since 9/11. He is also charged with shooting dead a police officer three days after the April 15, 2013, bombing.
U.S. District Judge George O'Toole on Thursday will begin calling in potential jurors in groups of 20 at a time for questioning. He needs to whittle the field down to a panel of 12 jurors and six alternates.
Candidates need not be unaware of the attacks to be eligible to serve, O'Toole has said, though they must be able to keep an open mind on whether Tsarnaev is guilty or innocent until they have heard the evidence. If they find him guilty, they must be willing to at least consider voting for execution.
Lawyers for Tsarnaev, who has pleaded not guilty, this week asked O'Toole to pause jury selection due to last week's attacks in Paris by Islamist gunmen in which 17 people were killed over three days, saying parallels between that incident and the bombing would taint the jury pool.
Tsarnaev left a note during a manhunt for him suggesting the attack was intended as an act of retribution for U.S. military engagement in Muslim countries, prosecutors said.
O'Toole rejected the defense request saying that reviewing the questionnaires filled out by potential jurors "confirmed, rather than undermined" his opinion that he would be able to seat an impartial jury.
The size of the pool of potential jurors called in reflected the large number of Boston-area residents with a personal connection to the incident. Thousands were crowded around the race finish line when the bombs went off, and hundreds of thousands in the Boston area were ordered to remain in their homes four days later during the manhunt.
The judge and defense attorneys will likely want to avoid jurors with a direct connection to the attack.
(Reporting by Scott Malone; Editing by Eric Beech)