CHELSEA — The man accused of planting a pair of bombs in Chelsea in September should face trial in Vermont to avoid a biased jury in Manhattan, his lawyers say.
Attorneys for Ahmad Khan Rahimi on Wednesday asked a Manhattan federal judge to move the suspect’s trial either to Vermont or another district deemed “appropriate” by the court, a filing shows.
An expert who analyzed survey data from Washington, D.C., Vermont and Manhattan found Manhattan news outlets published “twice as much coverage” of Rahimi’s case as D.C. outlets did, and “nearly five times as much” as was published in Burlington, Vermont, the filing says.
“The expert’s analysis of media coverage confirms there has been (and continues to be) prejudicial pretrial publicity regarding Mr. Rahimi and the bombing in this district,” the filing states.
Rahimi’s lawyers also placed some of the blame for the “prejudicial” publicity on statements made by government officials — including then-presidential nominee Donald Trump, Mayor Bill de Blasio and former U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara — after Rahimi was arrested.
“... Bharara issued several ‘tweets’ accusing Mr. Rahimi of ‘attack[ing]” the ‘American way of life’ and describing him as the ‘Chelsea bomber’ who would ‘face justice’ on ‘terrorism charges,’” the filing says.
American way of life attacked this weekend w/ explosions in Chelsea & Seaside Park but swift response led to fed terror charges.— US Attorney Bharara (@USAttyBharara) September 21, 2016
Eighty-four percent of potential jurors surveyed in the Southern District of New York “had a personal connection to the bombing,” compared with 60 percent of survey respondents in D.C. and only 33 percent of respondents in Burlington, it adds.
Forty-five percent of Manhattan-based survey respondents, meanwhile, said they already believed Rahimi was guilty, compared to 15 percent of respondents in Burlington.
Rahimi was indicted on charges including using a weapon of mass destruction following the Sept. 17 explosion on West 23rd Street that left more than 30 people injured.
Attorneys representing terrorism suspects often ask for a venue change, but a judge has never granted one, according to NBC New York, which first reported on the request.
Rahimi’s trial was originally slated to begin on March 27, but has since been pushed to Oct. 2, a spokeswoman for the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York said Thursday.