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Boston defense focuses on Tsarnaev's troubled family

Defense team for Tsarnaev highlights his parents' struggles, unsteady home life

Close to wrapping up their case, defense lawyers for Boston Marathon bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev portrayed their client Tuesday as the product of a troubled and ailing Chechen father who suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder, and an angry, aggressive older brother who often picked fights in Boston.

Tsarnaev was found guilty last month on all 30 charges in the April 2013 bombings, and the jury of seven women and five men will soon be deciding whether the 21-year-old Russian immigrant is moved to death row or spends the rest of his life in prison with no parole.

Defense lawyers, hoping for the life sentence, on Tuesday sought to show how he was affected by family members, from their history in the Chechen region to their immigration to Boston when Tsarnaev was 8.

There has been much testimony in the trial about his mother, Zubeidat Tsarnaev, who became a strict Muslim at the time that her oldest son, Tamerlan Tsarnaev, was becoming an Islamic radical.

Testimony Tuesday was the first that centered on his father, Anzor Tsarnaev.

Dr. Alexander Niss, a former Boston psychiatrist who now practices in Los Angeles, testified that for two years he treated the father for post-traumatic stress disorder, nightmares, anxiety, hallucinations and near dementia. Niss said the father, a former boxer, was deeply affected by the Chechen wars in the 1990s.

“He had a lot of anxiety, and panic attacks,” Niss said. “He had flashbacks. He had a lot of paranoia. He was afraid of the Russian KGB, thought they were following him and looking through his window at his home.”

The father, who is living in Russia, was not called to testify.

Amanda Ransom, a college friend of Tamerlan’s wife, described Tamerlan’s cruel behavior, saying he dressed flashy, drove a Mercedes and was prone to starting fights. She recalled him once angrily punching a man for speaking to his wife, Katherine, and said she sometimes could hear him screaming and throwing things at her as well.

One night in their school dorm, she said, “I heard him laughing and she was crying in her room. After they had had sex he told her he had AIDS and when she started to cry, he laughed at her. He said he wasn’t serious, it was a joke.”

Henry Alvarez, a fellow high school wrestler with Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, said he had been shocked to learn that his former teammate was arrested in the bombings. “I never could imagine he would do something like this,” Alvarez said.

The defense is expected to put on expert testimony about the harsh conditions at the federal supermax prison, where Tsarnaev presumably would go if he is sentenced to life, and then end their case Wednesday or Thursday.

Twitter: @RickSerranoLAT

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