BOSTON (AP) – The best chance to save the life of Boston Marathon bombing suspect Dzhokhar Tsarnaev might be to put his dead brother on trial.
When Tsarnaev’s case begins, his lawyers are likely to pin their hopes – and the bombings themselves – on his older brother, Tamerlan: an amateur boxer, college student, husband and father who followed extremism and was named by a friend as a participant in a grisly 2011 triple slaying.
“He was the eldest one and he, in many ways, was the role model for his sisters and his brother,” said Elmirza Khozhugov, the former husband of Tamerlan’s sister, Ailina.
“You could always hear his younger brother and sisters say, ‘Tamerlan said this,’ and ‘Tamerlan said that.’ Dzhokhar loved him. He would do whatever Tamerlan would say,” Khozhugov told The Associated Press in the weeks after the bombings.
Three people were killed and more than 260 were injured when two homemade pressure-cooker bombs exploded near the finish line of the iconic race on April 15, 2013.
Tamerlan Tsarnaev, 26, died days after the bombings following a gun battle with police. Dzhokhar, then 19, was later found hiding in a boat parked in a backyard. Jury selection in his federal death penalty trial is entering its second month. With a snow storm in the forecast, proceedings Monday were cancelled and jury selection was to resume Tuesday.
Dzhokhar’s lawyers have made it clear they will try to show that he was heavily influenced, maybe even intimidated, by his older brother, into participating in the bombings. Prosecutors are prepared to argue that Dzhokhar was a full and willing participant in the bombings.
If a jury convicts Dzhokhar, its decision on whether to give him life in prison or sentence him to death could depend “on the extent to which it views Tamerlan Tsarnaev as having induced or coerced his young brother” to help commit the crimes, the defense argued in a court filing.
About a decade before the attack, their parents, ethnic Chechens, had moved the family to the US from the volatile Dagestan region of Russia after living in the former Soviet republic of Kyrgyzstan. Their father, Anzor Tsarnaev, told The Associated Press they emigrated in part to escape discrimination.
The relationship between the two brothers would likely be a key part of the evidence Dzhokhar’s lawyers present even if he’s convicted, said lawyer David Hoose.
Under the federal death penalty law, juries deciding on a sentence can consider whether a defendant “was under unusual and substantial duress”, regardless of whether duress is used as a defence to the charges.