By Scott Malone
BOSTON (Reuters) - A cousin of convicted Boston Marathon bomber recalled Dzhokhar Tsarnaev as being a "very kind" child, as she testified on Monday at his high-profile trial where defense lawyers are fighting to spare the 21-year-old ethnic Chechen's life.
The cousin, Raisat Suleimanov, a nurse who was born in Dagestan and now lives outside Moscow, said through an interpreter that she traveled to Boston out of familial love.
"I can only say good things about Dzhokhar and that's not because he's my cousin. He was a very liked child, he was a very kind, very warm child," Suleimanov said, adding that his temperament also mellowed his stricter family members.
"I categorically reject what he did, it's a great tragedy of course," said Suleimanov, who is about 35 years old and one of several Russian relatives of Tsarnaev's expected to testify on his behalf.
Tsarnaev was found guilty last month of killing three people and injuring 264 with a pair of homemade pressure-cooker bombs in the April 15, 2013.
Defense attorneys argue that their client, the younger of a pair of brothers who carried out one of the highest-profile attacks on U.S. soil since Sept. 11, 2001, was a secondary player in a scheme hatched by his 26-year-old brother, Tamerlan. The brother died on April 19, 2013, hours after the pair shot dead a police officer as they prepared to flee Boston.
Alexa Guevara, a 21-year-old college friend of Tsarnaev's from the University of Massachusetts at Dartmouth wept as she told the jury last week that he had been supportive of her dreams to go to art school and was more of a "decent" person than many of the men she met at school.
Tsarnaev's lawyers are expected to call about another week's worth of witnesses before the same jury that found their client guilty takes up the question of whether to sentence him to death or life in prison without the possibility of parole.
Prosecutors pursuing a death sentence contend that Dzhokhar Tsarnaev was an equal partner with his brother in the bombings. They have said Tsarnaev lived a double life, pretending to be a typical college student while secretly watching al Qaeda propaganda online and preparing to bomb the race.
Martin Richard, 8, Chinese exchange student Lu Lingzi, 23, and restaurant manager Krystle Campbell, 29, died in the bombing. The Tsarnaev brothers shot dead Massachusetts Institute of Technology police officer Sean Collier three days later.
Richard's parents and Collier's sister have urged prosecutors to drop their pursuit of a death sentence.
(Editing by Jeffrey Benkoe)