By Scott Malone
BOSTON (Reuters) - Attorneys for the accused Boston Marathon bomber on Thursday will make their case to a three-judge appellate panel to move his trial out of the city that was the site of the largest mass-casualty attack on U.S. soil since Sept. 11, 2001.
Dzhokhar Tsarnaev's lawyers for months have been trying to have the trial moved out of Boston, arguing that too many residents of the area were directly affected by the April 15, 2013, attack and by the massive manhunt four days later to allow for an impartial jury to be seated.
But U.S. District Judge George O'Toole three times rejected their request and has gone ahead with jury selection, which is now in its seventh week and is scheduled to continue on Thursday in the same courthouse where lawyers are making their arguments.
Three people died and 264 were injured when a pair of homemade pressure-cooker bombs went off at the race's finish line, amid tens of thousands of spectators, athletes and volunteers. Tsarnaev, 21, is accused of that attack as well as of fatally shooting a police officer three days later as he and his older brother, Tamerlan, prepared to flee the city.
Tamerlan, 26, died that night following a gun battle with police, and hundreds of thousands of Boston-area residents were ordered to shelter in their homes the following day as police searched for the surviving suspect.
In a sign of how challenging it would be to seat an impartial jury for the case, which could result in Tsarnaev being sentenced to death, O'Toole summoned more than 1,350 jurors to court early last month to fill out questionnaires.
The court has since brought in more than 200 members of that pool, the largest ever called to Boston federal court, for in-person questioning. More than 50 qualified jurors have been identified, and officials want to identify about 70, from whom a panel of 12 jurors and six alternates will be selected.
Prosecutors and defense lawyers have referred to the jury-selection process in a bid to bolster their cases on the trial's venue. Prosecutors, in a brief filed with the court ahead of Thursday's arguments, said the fact that so many jurors had been seated showed it would be possible to find a jury. Defense attorneys noted that 68 percent of the people who filled out questionnaires said they had already decided that he was guilty.
(Reporting by Scott Malone; Editing by Eric Beech)