Testimony in marathon bomber's trial turns to sister-in-law

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Posted: Apr 28, 2015 5:47 PM
Testimony in marathon bomber's trial turns to sister-in-law

BOSTON (AP) — Testimony in the trial of Boston Marathon bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev zeroed in Tuesday on his late brother's wife, revealing searches done on her computer on the rewards of dying as a martyr's spouse and raising questions about what she knew before the 2013 attacks.

Mark Spencer, a computer expert testifying for the defense, said a computer belonging to Tamerlan Tsarnaev's wife, Katherine Russell, contained searches done more than a year before the bombings for terms that included "rewards for wife of mujahedeen" and "If your husband becomes a shahid, what are the rewards for you?"

Some of the searches were done a few days before Tsarnaev went to Russia in January 2012, and another was done when he was in Russia.

Mujahedeen is the Arabic word for holy warrior; shahid is a term for a martyr, specifically one who dies during a holy war.

Three people were killed and more than 260 were wounded when the Tsarnaev brothers set off two pressure-cooker bombs packed with shrapnel near the marathon's finish line on April 15, 2013. Prosecutors have said the attack was designed to retaliate against the U.S. for wars in Muslim countries.

Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, 21, who was born in the former Soviet republic of Kyrgyzstan, was convicted this month of all 30 charges against him. A jury must now decide whether he should be sentenced to life in prison or execution.

Tamerlan Tsarnaev, 26, was killed during a shootout with police days after the bombings.

Dzhokhar Tsarnaev's lawyers have argued that Tamerlan led Dzhokhar, then 19, down the path to terrorism. They say Tamerlan became radicalized, and his wife, an American from Rhode Island, showed signs of becoming a religious fanatic.

Russell's name came up Monday, the first day for the defense to present its case in the penalty phase of Dzhokhar's trial. Her best friend, Gina Crawford, testified that she texted Russell the day of the bombings to ask if she was OK. Crawford said Russell texted her back, saying she was fine and as far as she knew, Tamerlan Tsarnaev was at home in Cambridge at the time of the attacks.

Crawford said Russell then added a curious statement, texting, "a lot more people are killed every day in Syria and in other places." She wrote in another text: "Innocent people."

Amato DeLuca, an attorney for Russell and her family, has said repeatedly that Russell didn't suspect her husband of anything before the bombings and nothing seemed amiss afterward.

DeLuca told The Associated Press on Tuesday that he and Russell have not heard from federal officials in more than a year and that she hadn't been informed she was a target of any investigation. DeLuca said Russell wasn't identified as a witness in Dzhokhar Tsarnaev's trial.

DeLuca told the AP he was unaware of the Internet searches described in court. He said Russell's text messages to her best friend indicate what DeLuca has said all along: Russell didn't know her husband had bombed the marathon.

"If she did know that Tamerlan were involved in any way, she probably wouldn't have said something like that," DeLuca said. "It brings credibility to what she said, which is, as far as she knows, he's at home."

Russell now lives in New Jersey with the 4-year-old daughter she had with Tamerlan. She moved there to be closer to the Tsarnaevs' two sisters.

Russell's mother, Judith Russell, testified Monday that she and her husband weren't happy when Katherine began dating Tamerlan Tsarnaev. She said Tamerlan became increasingly strident about religion and the U.S.

On Tuesday, Tsarnaev's lawyers also focused on Tamerlan's skills as a boxer and his anger when he was told he couldn't advance beyond regional tournaments because he wasn't a U.S. citizen.

Brandon Douglas, a mixed martial arts fighter who worked out with Tamerlan at a Boston gym, said Tamerlan took the exclusion personally.

"He expressed frustration that they wouldn't allow him entry and that he felt that it was an intentional slight directed solely at him," Douglas said.

Douglas said that over time, friction developed between Tamerlan and the gym's staff because Tamerlan would wear street shoes on the mats, take other fighters' equipment without permission and disrupt class by being loud.

Three days before the bombings, the gym's general manager emailed the owner to complain about Tamerlan's behavior, Douglas said.

The jury was shown a short video from that day, showing Tamerlan in the boxing ring with Dzhokhar and a third man. Tamerlan and the other man are warming up, but Dzhokhar mainly just rests against the ring's ropes. At one point, Tamerlan throws a pair of boxer's hand wraps at Dzhokhar.

Dzhokhar's attorney David Bruck said in opening statements that Dzhokhar was "a good kid" who was led astray by his increasingly fanatical brother. Prosecutors have painted Tsarnaev as an unrepentant killer who deserves to be executed.

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Associated Press writer Michelle R. Smith contributed to this report from Providence, Rhode Island.