Boston bomber's lawyers to probe Tsarnaev's troubled history

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Tsarnaev Defense Makes Case Against Death

(Reuters) - Lawyers for convicted Boston Marathon bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev on Tuesday are set to probe his troubled family history as they make their plea for a jury to sentence him to life in prison rather than death.

The 21-year-old ethnic Chechen was convicted earlier this month of killing three people and injuring 264 in the April 15, 2013, bombing, as well as shooting dead a police officer three days later alongside his older brother, Tamerlan Tsarnaev.

Defense attorneys opened their case on Monday by arguing that 26-year-old Tamerlan, who died following a gunfight with police hours after the police officer's shooting, was the driving force behind the attack and that his younger brother had been raised to follow his lead.

During the first day of defense witness testimony, the jury heard from people who had seen Tamerlan's outbursts at a mosque near his Cambridge, Massachusetts, home and from his mother-in-law, who described his growing obsession with religion.

Martin Richard, 8, Chinese exchange student Lu Lingzi, 23, and restaurant manager Krystle Campbell, 29, died in the bombing. Massachusetts Institute of Technology police officer Sean Collier was shot dead three days later.

Richard's parents and Collier's sister have urged prosecutors to drop their pursuit of a capital sentence, saying a deal in which Tsarnaev would accept a life sentence in exchange for giving up his appeal rights would allow the incident to fade from the spotlight more quickly.

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Boston bomber's lawyers to probe Tsarnaev's troubled history
BOSTON, MA - MAY 13: TV cameras line the entrance of John Joseph Moakley United States Courthouse as the Boston Bomber Trial enters jury deliberations in the sentencing phase of the trail on May 13, 2015 in Boston, Massachusetts. Dzhokar Tsarnaev was found guilty on all 30 counts related to his involvement in the 2013 bombing, which resulted in three deaths and over 250 injuries. (Photo by Scott Eisen/Getty Images)
BOSTON, MA - MAY 13: Members of the legal defense team for Boston Marathon bombing suspect Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, including William Fick (from left), Miriam Conrad, Judy Clarke and Timothy Watkins leave John Joseph Moakley United States Courthouse after the beginning of jury deliberations in the sentencing phase of the Boston Bomber Trial on May 13, 2015 in Boston, Massachusetts. Dzhokar Tsarnaev was found guilty on all 30 counts related to his involvement in the 2013 bombing, which resulted in three deaths and over 250 injuries. (Photo by Scott Eisen/Getty Images)
BOSTON, MA - MAY 13: Members of the public line up to enter John Joseph Moakley United States Courthouse as the Boston Bomber Trial is slated to start closing arguments on May 13, 2015 in Boston, Massachusetts. Dzhokar Tsarnaev was found guilty on all 30 counts related to his involvement in the 2013 bombing, which resulted in three deaths and over 250 injuries. (Photo by Scott Eisen/Getty Images)
BOSTON, MA - MAY 11: A protester holds up a sign outside of John Joseph Moakley United States Courthouse as the Tsarnaev defense nears its end of presenting case in sentencing phase of the Boston Bomber Trial on May 11, 2015 in Boston, Massachusetts. Dzhokar Tsarnaev, 21, was found guilty on all 30 counts related to his involvement in the 2013 bombing, which resulted in three deaths and over 250 injuries. (Photo by Scott Eisen/Getty Images)
BOSTON, MA - MAY 11: Sister Helen Prejean is surrounded by media after testifying at John Joseph Moakley United States Courthouse as the Tsarnaev defense nears its end of presenting case in sentencing phase of the Boston Bomber Trial on May 11, 2015 in Boston, Massachusetts. Dzhokar Tsarnaev, 21, was found guilty on all 30 counts related to his involvement in the 2013 bombing, which resulted in three deaths and over 250 injuries. (Photo by Scott Eisen/Getty Images)
BOSTON, MA - MAY 04: Members of the legal defense team for Boston Marathon bombing suspect Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, including Miriam Conrad, (from left), Judy Clarke and David Bruck arrive at John Joseph Moakley United States Courthouse as the sentencing phase in the Boston Bomber Trial continues on May 4, 2015 in Boston, Massachusetts. Dzhokar Tsarnaev, 21, was found guilty on all 30 counts related to his involvement in the 2013 bombing, which resulted in three deaths and over 250 injuries and his relatives are expected to take the stand to testify. (Photo by Scott Eisen/Getty Images)
Members of the legal defense team for Boston Marathon bombing suspect Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, including (L-R) David Bruck, Timothy G. Watkins and Judy Clarke leave John Joseph Moakley United States Courthouse as the sentencing phase In Boston Bomber Trial continues on April 27, 2015 in Boston, Massachusetts. Dzhokar Tsarnaev, 21, was found guilty on all 30 counts related to to his involvement in the 2013 bombing, which resulted in three deaths and over 250 injuries. (Photo by Scott Eisen/Getty Images)
Members of the legal defense team for Boston Marathon bombing suspect Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, including William Fick (L) and Timothy G. Watkins walk away from John Joseph Moakley United States Courthouse during the first day of the sentencing phase of the Boston Marathon Bomber Trial on April 21, 2015 in Boston, Massachusetts. Dzhokar Tsarnaev, 21, was found guilty on all 30 counts related to to his involvement in the 2013 bombing, which related in three deaths and over 250 injuries.(Photo by Scott Eisen/Getty Images)
BOSTON, MA - APRIL 21: Media and police vechicles are reflected in the entranceway of John Joseph Moakley United States Courthouse during the first day of the sentencing phase of the Boston Marathon Bomber Trial on April 21, 2015 in Boston, Massachusetts. Dzhokar Tsarnaev, 21, was found guilty on all 30 counts related to to his involvement in the 2013 bombing, which resulted in three deaths and over 250 injuries. (Photo by Scott Eisen/Getty Images)
BOSTON - APRIL 8: The jury found Dzhokhar Tsarnaev guilty at the Boston Marathon bombing trial at Moakley Federal Court. Bombing survivor Karen Brassard pauses as she answers a question outside the courthouse after the verdict. (Photo by John Tlumacki/The Boston Globe via Getty Images)
BOSTON, MA - APRIL 8: Dana Cohen, (from left), Carlos Arredondo, Karen Brassard, Liz Norden, Laurie Scher and Massport Fire Lt. Michael Ward at a press conference outside of John Joseph Moakley United States Courthouse following a verdict in the Marathon Bombing case on on April 8, 2015 in Boston, Massachusetts. Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, 21, was found guilty on all 30 counts related to his involvement in the 2013 bombing, which resulted in three deaths and over 250 injuries. (Photo by Scott Eisen/Getty Images)
BOSTON - MARCH 9: An artist's sketch of Dzhokhar Tsarnaev hangs on the wall outside the Moakley courthouse for videographers to record during the Marathon bombing trial. (Photo by Lane Turner/The Boston Globe via Getty Images)
BOSTON - MARCH 11: Members of the media film evidence from the Dzhokhar Tsarnaev Boston Marathon bombing trial on display at the Moakley Federal Courthouse in Boston on March 11, 2015 . (Photo by John Blanding/The Boston Globe via Getty Images)
BOSTON - MARCH 4: Opening statements in the trial of the Boston Marathon bomber took place at Moakley Federal Courthouse. A construction crew lowers a form to pour concrete in with the words 'Boston Strong' spray painted on it at a construction site directly across from the courthouse. (Photo by John Tlumacki/The Boston Globe via Getty Images)
BOSTON - MARCH 5: Boston Marathon bombing victim, Rebekah Gregory, right, arrived at Moakley Federal Courthouse in Boston, where the second day in the trial of Dzhokhar Tsarnaev got underway on March 5, 2015. (Photo by Wendy Maeda/The Boston Globe via Getty Images)
BOSTON, MA - MARCH 4: Joe Kebartas of South Boston protests the death penalty outside of the entrance to the John Joseph Moakley United States Courthouse during the first day of the Dzhokhar Tsarnaev trial on March 4, 2015 in Boston, Massachusetts. Dzhokhar Tsarnaev is charged with using a weapon of mass destruction in an attack on the April 15, 2013 Boston Marathon along with his brother Tamerlan, who was later killed during a shootout with police. (Photo by Scott Eisen/Getty Images)
BOSTON - MARCH 4: Jose Briceno, of Cambridge, Mass., protests outside Moakley Federal Courthouse, where opening statements began in the trial of Dzhokhar Tsarnaev on March 4, 2015. (Photo by Wendy Maeda/The Boston Globe via Getty Images)
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One of Tsarnaev's attorneys echoed that sentiment in his opening statement on Monday.

Federal prosecutors previously cited al Qaeda materials found on Tsarnaev's computers and a note suggesting that the attack was an act of retribution for U.S. military campaigns in Muslim-dominated countries.

They also showed the jury a surveillance photo taken in a holding cell at Boston federal court while Tsarnaev awaited his first court appearance in July 2013, in which he extends his middle finger in a vulgar gesture.

Defense attorney David Bruck noted that image came at the end of a 30-second video in which Tsarnaev also fussed with his hair in the mirror covering the security camera.

Bruck urged the jurors to consider a new side of Tsarnaev over the next two weeks.

"You can't ever accurately evaluate anything, not even a picture, until you know the context," Bruck said. "Whether it's a grainy still from a surveillance camera or a young man's life, you have to know the context."

(Reporting by Scott Malone; Editing by Leslie Adler)

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