Boston bomber's lawyers aim to paint Tsarnaev as teen gone astray

Reuters News
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Posted: May 06, 2015 7:08 AM

BOSTON (Reuters) - Attorneys for Boston Marathon bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev will call more witnesses on Wednesday as they seek to spare his life by painting him as a normal teen who went astray when he followed his older, domineering brother in carrying out the attack.

Tsarnaev, 21, was found guilty last month of bombing the race’s crowded finish line on April 15, 2013, in one of the highest-profile attacks on U.S. soil since Sept. 11, 2001. He was also convicted of killing a police officer three days later.

Defense lawyers aim to persuade the same jury that found him guilty to sentence Tsarnaev to life in prison without chance of release rather than death, asserting that he would not have bombed the marathon had it not been for his radical older brother, a dominant force in his life. 

The brother, 26-year-old Tamerlan, was killed following a gunfight with police hours after the pair killed the officer.

Over the past two weeks lawyers for Tsarnaev have called three dozen witnesses who described him as a mild-mannered teenager who, even as his college grades slipped, remained the kind and well-liked youngster he had been as a child. 

"He never caused harm to anybody or disrespected anybody,"college student Henry Alvarez, who wrestled on the same team as Tsarnaev in high school, told jurors on Tuesday. 

Martin Richard, 8, Chinese exchange student Lu Lingzi, 23, and restaurant manager Krystle Campbell, 29, died in the bombing. The Tsarnaev brothers also shot dead Massachusetts Institute of Technology police officer Sean Collier.

Prior witnesses have testified that the defendant's family, ethnic Chechens who immigrated to the United States from Russia, was increasingly unstable in the years before the bombing.

Friends and relatives of the Tsarnaev family told jurors that the defendant was raised by a mentally ill father, a distracted mother who became deeply religious in the years before the bombing and a cruel brother who became obsessed with radical Islam.  

Amanda Ransom, 25, recalled on the witness stand Tuesday that she had seen Tamerlan Tsarnaev emotionally abuse his future wife, her college friend Katherine Russell, including tricking her into believing she might have contracted AIDS from him.

"At one point I heard him laughing really hard, and she was crying," Ransom testified, referring to the incident. Tamerlan did not have AIDS, she said.

(Reporting by Elizabeth Barber; Editing by Scott Malone and Dan Grebler)