By Joseph Ax
NEW YORK (Reuters) – An Afghan-born U.S. citizen, charged with setting off bombs last September in New York and New Jersey, is seeking to move his upcoming trial from Manhattan to Vermont, arguing he cannot get a fair trial in the city where he is accused of injuring 30 people.
Ahmad Rahimi’s defense lawyer filed a motion requesting a change of venue late on Wednesday in federal court in Manhattan, six months before his trial is set to begin with jury selection on Oct. 2.
Rahimi, 29, is facing federal and state charges in New York and New Jersey after authorities say he detonated bombs in the Chelsea neighborhood of Manhattan and in the coastal New Jersey town of Seaside Heights.
The bomb in New York injured 30 people but did not kill anyone, while the explosion in New Jersey did not hurt anyone.
Rahimi also left behind unexploded bombs in New York and in Elizabeth, New Jersey, before he was captured in Linden, New Jersey, following a shootout with police in which two officers suffered minor injuries, prosecutors say.
An expert hired by Rahimi’s court-appointed lawyer Sabrina Shroff conducted a survey of residents in New York and concluded that pervasive media coverage had made it impossible to select an impartial jury, according to her motion.
Shroff proposed Burlington, Vermont, as an alternative trial location, saying it was far enough from New York to ensure little bias while remaining within the same federal appeals court jurisdiction. She also suggested Washington, D.C., as another possibility.
Such motions are rarely granted, even in high-profile cases. Federal judges refused to move the trial of the Boston Marathon bomber, Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, for instance, despite massive pretrial media coverage.
The U.S. Attorney’s office in Manhattan did not immediately comment on the motion.
Rahimi also faces an upcoming trial on New Jersey state charges relating to the police shootout, and his lawyer in that case has also moved for a change of venue, citing the case’s publicity. Prosecutors in Union County, New Jersey, have opposed that request.
A state judge in Elizabeth, New Jersey, has scheduled a hearing on the issue next month.
(Editing by Bernadette Baum)