BOSTON — The lengthy process of selecting a jury to hear the trial of Boston Marathon bombing suspect Dzhokhar Tsarnaev appeared to be moving closer to conclusion Wednesday after the judge and lawyers questioned eight more prospective jurors on matters including their views on the death penalty.
It was not immediately clear if anyone else from the jury pool would be brought in for questioning or if enough had been qualified to allow jury selection to move to the next phase.
U.S. District Court Judge George O'Toole has said that once 70 people are qualified as jurors, prosecutors and Tsarnaev's lawyers will be allowed to eliminate 23 people each for strategic reasons. A panel of 12 jurors and six alternates will hear the case.
O'Toole said during Wednesday's proceedings that the start of testimony was "getting pretty close."
Tsarnaev, 21, is charged in the April 2013 bombing that killed three people and injured more than 260 at the marathon finish line. He could face the death penalty if convicted.
The 1st U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals has not yet ruled on the latest defense bid to move the trial out of Boston. Tsarnaev's lawyers claim so many people in Massachusetts were personally affected by the attack and there has been so much publicity around it that selecting an impartial jury was impossible.
In all, 256 prospective jurors have been questioned so far.
Much of the questioning has focused on whether potential panelists had formed an opinion on whether Tsarnaev was guilty and how they viewed the death penalty.
One man, a teacher who said he had earned a degree in international affairs at the University of London, indicated Wednesday he had once been steadfastly opposed to the death penalty but that his views had changed somewhat after the 2012 shooting rampage at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut.
He said the shooting, which left 20 first-graders and six educators dead, affected him deeply because it occurred within weeks of his becoming a father for the first time.
"I didn't know it was possible to love someone so much, and my heart just broke for all those families," he said.
The man said he would now consider the death penalty but only if the government proved a "very compelling interest" for imposing it.
One of Tsarnaev's attorneys, Miriam Conrad, noted that an 8-year-old boy was among those who died in the marathon bombing and asked the prospective juror if that would influence any potential decision. After a pause, the man said he had been more affected by Newtown than the marathon, though he was not certain why.
Another prospective juror, who works for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, said that he had been "dead set" against the death penalty as an idealistic young man but that he now considered it appropriate in extreme cases such as "unbelievably cruel, cold-blooded murder on a big scale."