Defense Humanizes Tsarnaev in Boston Bombing Trial Penalty Phase
Now that the prosecution has rested its case in the penalty phase, the defense has continued to humanize Tsarnaev, characterizing him as a normal kid under his older brother’s influence through a series of testimonies from those who knew him as a child.
Members of Tsarnaev’s family testified on Monday, including his cousin, Raisat Suleimanov. According to a CNN article, Suleimanov testified that Tsarnaev was a sweet child. When watching The Lion King, he cried when Mufasa died, said Suleimanov. The prosecution began to cross-examine the witness about the defendant crying over a cartoon character while lacking any remorse for the marathon victims, but was cut off by an objection.
Tsarnaev’s aunt, Patimat Suleimanov, also took the stand Monday, but according to CNN, she hadn’t seen Tsarnaev since childhood. Suleimanov had to step down from the stand to compose herself, and in the first public display of emotion since the trial began in March, Tsarnaev dabbed his eyes.
Multiple family members testified that they noticed the Tsarnaev family become more radical in their Islamic beliefs – something the rest of the family did not support, said CNN.
Henry Alvarez, a high school wrestling teammate of Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, took the stand Tuesday afternoon. Alvarez said that Tsarnaev became co-captain of the team, chosen by the head coach because Tsarnaev could “lead by example.”
Alvarez testified that Tsarnaev would dance around to the song, “Like a G6,” before tournaments. “[Tsarnaev] never caused harm to anybody or disrespected anybody,” Alvarez said, “He was just a kind, funny person.”
Alvarez said he knew that Tsarnaev was a Muslim only because he wouldn’t eat pepperoni pizza. “That was the only time he really talked about his religion,” Alvarez said.
A former wrestling coach of Tsarnaev, Roy Howard, also testified on Tuesday. Howard described Tsarnaev as a “quiet hard-worker,” whose parents never came to meets or practices. According to Howard, Tsarnaev came back to visit the wrestling team after graduating high school, last visiting in 2013 – the year of the marathon bombing.
When asked about his reaction to hearing Tsarnaev was responsible for the marathon bombing, Howard testified that it wasn’t the same Dzhokhar Tsarnaev that he had known.
Tsarnaev’s high school math teacher, Eric Traub, shared a similar viewpoint Wednesday afternoon. “I didn’t believe it was him at first because it didn’t make sense to me,” said Traub.
“Jahar was a kind student. He got along great with his peers,” said Traub, “He was quiet but he was always willing to participate in conversation.”
Traub wrote a letter of recommendation for Tsarnaev’s college applications, describing the defendant as a “strong student with a positive attitude.”
In cross-examination, the prosecution turned around Traub’s kind comments to highlight that Tsarnaev was “self-motivated,” “smart,” and “mature.”
Other witnesses on Wednesday afternoon included US Deputy Marshall Kevin Roche, who was a member of the detail guarding Tsarnaev in the months after the bombing. Roche spoke about the incident where Tsarnaev flipped off the security camera in his holding cell, saying the defendant said “No, I’m done, I’m sorry,” when asked if he was going to continue bad behavior.
Wednesday’s last witness was Mark Bezy, retired employee from the Federal Bureau of Prisons. Bezy spoke about the Special Administrative Measures (SAMs) that limit the communications of high-security inmates to only immediate family members. He also discussed the conditions of the Administrative Maximum Facility (ADX) in Colorado, where Tsarnaev could be held.