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Tsarnaev’s family so far absent from trial

As penalty phase moved forward, some relatives reportedly in Boston

Boston Marathon bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev came from a close-knit Russian-speaking family who once lived together in a cramped apartment in Cambridge’s Inman square. His sister-in-law — the widow of his older brother and coconspirator, Tamerlan — also once lived there.

None of these relatives, however, have appeared so in the courtroom during Tsarnaev’s trial, or in the first part of the penalty phase presented by the government that ended this week. As the defense case is set to start this Monday, some relatives did arrive Thursday, according to a person familiar with the case. It remains unclear which relatives these are among his extended family, which hail largely from southern Russia. He also has some relatives in Canada. A state police spokesman said Tsarnaev’s mother did not arrive yesterday, though he would not confirm the arrival of any other relatives.


It also remains unclear if these relatives will testify in court or represent the first family members to sit as spectators in support of the 21-year-old Cambridge high school graduate and former University of Massachusetts students. Jurors began hearing evidence in the case about seven weeks ago.

Due to prison restrictions that apply to Tsarnaev because of his terrorism crimes, only members of his immediate family - his parents and sisters - have been able to have contact with him in prison. They have assisted the defense team, and have been in phone contact with Tsarnaev in prison, while his sisters have also visited, according to court records.

The 800-square-foot Norfolk Street apartment in Cambridge is no longer home to any members of the Tsarnaev family, as they have dispersed far and wide.

Here’s where they moved on to:

Mother and father

Tsarnaev’s parentsAP/file

Tsarnaev’s parents, who divorced just before leaving Cambridge in 2011, are reportedly living together in Dagestan. If Tsarnaev’s mother, Zubeidat, returned to the country, she could be arrested for failing to appear in court on a shoplifting charge from 2012.


The parents have largely remained out of the public eye since their first and only news conference, days after the bombings, when they said their sons were framed by the US government.

That day, Zubeidat, the more outspoken of the pair, angrily insisted through tears, “I’m sure that my kids were not involved in anything.”

The parents’ view appears not to have changed. Fatima Tlisova, a Russian-speaking reporter with Voice of America who has been covering the trial, told the Globe that she had two conversations four months ago with Tsarnaev’s father, Anzor, in which he commented briefly about the case, but said his son’s defense attorneys had advised him and Zubeidat not to speak to the media.

Last month, Tlisova posted part of that conversation on Twitter, in response to a reader’s inquiry. Translated by the Globe into English, that post reads, in part, that Anzor was “convinced there will be a death sentence, and doesn’t see the point in coming to court. He says he thinks this is all a conspiracy.”

That post, however, was swiftly denounced by a person who said he spoke on behalf of Tsarnaev’s mother.

The person, whose Twitter name is Timur Raduev, posted what he described as exchanges with Tsarnaev’s mother. In them, Zubeidat allegedly condemns Tlisova’s characterization of Anzor’s comments, saying there is no way the father had “made peace with a death sentence for the son he loves so much.”


Tlisova stands by her depiction of her conversation with Anzor.

After Tsarnaev’s conviction on April 8, Raduev posted screenshots of texts he said he had received from Zubeidat, including one that read in part, “the terrorist is America, and everyone knows that. My sons were the best of the best!”

Also, the news website Vocativ reported that Tsarnaev’s mother sent other postverdict messages via WhatsApp, including some written in all capital letters. They quoted her saying that America “will pay for my sons and the sons of Islam, permanently!!”


Ailina TsarnaevaAP/File

Tsarnaev’s two older sisters, Bella, 26, and Ailina, 24, have struggled together through hard financial times as young mothers in the New York-New Jersey metropolitan area.

At times, they have had strained relationships with their parents and late older brother, largely over arranged marriages and dating non-Muslim men.

The sisters, wearing traditional Muslim head coverings, attended Tsarnaev’s arraignment in July 2013 and drew widespread media attention. Bella and Ailina, both of whom dropped out of high school in Cambridge, have since been in the news because of their own brushes with the law, including arrests related to marijuana possession, domestic violence, failing to cooperate with police, and verbal threats.

Most of those cases were in the New York-New Jersey area, though Ailina avoided jail time in Massachusetts last fall by pleading guilty to misleading a police officer investigating the use of counterfeit bills in 2010 at a Boston restaurant.


Katherine (Russell) TsarnaevaAP/File

Katherine (Russell) Tsarnaeva, Dzhokhar’s sister-in-law who is now in her mid-20s, lives in New Jersey and supports herself and her preschool-age daughter with a job, according to her lawyer, Amato DeLuca, who is based in Providence.


DeLuca said he did not know what type of work she does, though Tsarnaeva had previously worked as a home health aide and was the primary breadwinner when she, Tamerlan, and their daughter lived together at the Norfolk Street apartment after the Tsarnaev parents left for Dagestan.

DeLuca said that she cooperated with the FBI shortly after the Marathon bombings, but did not testify before the grand jury related to the event.

“We wouldn’t let her testify without immunity,” he said.

DeLuca said he last spoke to Tsarnaeva, a former Suffolk University student, about a month ago and said she has no intention of attending Tsarnaev’s trial. He said she remains in touch with Tsarnaev’s sisters.

DeLuca said he has not heard that the government is targeting Katherine for any charges related to the bombings. During the first phase of Tsarnaev’s trial, prosecutors presented extensive evidence of bomb-making materials in the Cambridge apartment where she lived.

When asked about her awareness of the bombing plot, DeLuca responded by pointing out that she was largely preoccupied, working 70 or 80 hours a week as the “sole supporter of the family.”

“All I can say is that she cooperated with the government and told them what she knows,” he said. “They know what she knows.”

Patricia Wen can be reached at wen@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @globepatty.