BOSTON, Feb 26 (Reuters) - Lawyers for the accused Boston Marathon bomber filed on Thursday a last-gasp request to dismiss the charges against their client or delay the start of the trial next week, contending that court officials had violated their own rules during jury selection.
Attorneys for Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, who is accused of carrying out the largest mass-casualty attack on U.S. soil since Sept. 11, 2001, argued in a court filing that after randomly assigning numbers to the more than 1,350 people who reported for initial selection early last month, the court re-ordered the jurors based on arrival time.
That, they contended, resulted in fewer potential black jurors being screened during the past two months of in-person questioning that wrapped up on Wednesday. They also contend that people who live within the Boston city limits and those under 30 and over 70 were disproportionately under-represented.
The final phase of jury selection is set to take place on Tuesday, when prosecutors and defense attorneys will whittle down the field of about 70 provisionally qualified jurors to 18 people, including 12 jurors and six alternates.
Tsarnaev faces the possibility of the death penalty if he is convicted of killing three people and injuring 264 in the April 15, 2013, bombing.
"Extra precautions must be taken to protect the defendant's right to an impartial and representative jury in a capital case," his attorneys argued in a motion filed in U.S. District Court in Boston.
Defense lawyers have asked U.S. District Judge George O'Toole three times to move the trial out of Boston, contending that it would be impossible to seat an impartial jury in the city where so many residents were either present at the race or ordered to shelter in their homes four days after the attack as police searched for Tsarnaev.
The judge rejected all three requests, and attorneys are now waiting for an appellate panel to rule on the matter.
Tsarnaev, an ethnic Chechen who moved to the United States with his family a decade before the attack, is also charged with shooting dead a university police officer on April 18, 2013, as he and his older brother, Tamerlan, tried to flee the city.
Tamerlan died that night following a gunbattle with police. (Reporting by Scott Malone; Editing by Susan Heavey)