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Boston bomber emotional as aunt breaks down on stand

05 may 2015, 13:16
0
Accused Boston Marathon bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev is shown in a courtroom sketch. ©Reuters
Accused Boston Marathon bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev is shown in a courtroom sketch. ©Reuters

 Boston bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev showed emotion in court for the first time on Monday, wiping his eyes as a distraught aunt was removed from the courtroom, too overcome to testify, AFP reports.

A jury is mulling whether Tsarnaev -- found guilty last month of all counts related to the April 15, 2013 attack on the Boston Marathon that killed three people and wounded 264 more -- should be sentenced to death or life in prison without parole.

Last week, his defense team began presenting evidence in a bid to save his life, and had arranged for his aunt, 64-year-old Patimat Suleimanova, to come from Russia to testify.

But the woman, her voice choked with sobs, was only able to tell the court her name, age and where she was from before she had to step down and was escorted from the courtroom.

Tsarnaev, a 21-year-old US citizen of Chechen descent, took a tissue and appeared to quickly wipe away tears.

Testimony from four other female members of Tsarnaev's family -- who traveled to the United States about 10 days ago and are being housed at an undisclosed location -- dominated Monday's proceedings.

Two of his cousins born in Dagestan in southern Russia had earlier taken the stand, with one describing Tsarnaev as a kind-hearted young boy who cried while watching the Disney animated classic "The Lion King."

"He was very kind, very warm... his kindness made everybody kind," said Raisat Suleimanova, a 35-year-old nurse who now lives near Moscow. Her testimony was translated from Russian into English by an interpreter for the court.

She described Tsarnaev's somewhat nomadic childhood, as his parents moved often -- from Kyrgyzstan to Chechnya to Dagestan.

Tsarnaev and his brother Tamerlan -- who was shot dead by police in the days after the marathon bombings as the pair attempted to evade capture -- virtually lived out of their suitcases, changing schools and friends often.

She also offered a glimpse into the life of their mother, Zubeidat Tsarnaeva, who loved fashion and jewelry before she moved to the United States. Jurors were shown photos of the woman, in a fur coat or in form-fitting clothes and sunglasses.

But in 2010, when she saw her again, Zubeidat was wearing the hijab.

"It was a shock, knowing the kind of person she used to be," Raisat Suleimanova testified, noting that the family had been "kind of removed" from their Islamic faith.

    'Listen to your elders' 

 Raisat Suleimanova's sister Naida also testified, saying of Tsarnaev: "He was very cute, very nice, very kind. He always had a smile on his face."

Tsarnaev "loved his older brother," Naida told the court.

"There is a custom in our family, to always listen to your older sibling... and follow his example."

Tsarnaev's lawyers have sought throughout the trial to portray 26-year-old Tamerlan Tsarnaev as the mastermind of the attacks, alleging he manipulated his frightened younger brother.

Naida Suleimanova also expressed her concerns about the sharp changes in Tsarnaeva's appearance, saying it was unusual for the women in their family.

When confronted with Tamerlan Tsarnaev's hatred of the treatment of Muslims and his wish to see the creation of an Islamic caliphate, she replied: "Our parents didn't teach us those things."

Two other of Tsarnaev's aunts testified, as did two of his female high school friends.

The defense is expected to spend around two weeks presenting witnesses testifying on their client's behalf.


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