Tsarnaev’s family arrives as defense readies
Under federal protection in a Revere hotel
Relatives of Boston Marathon bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev are under federal government protection in a Revere hotel, officials said Friday, and are widely expected to assist the defense team as it prepares to present its case next week that Tsarnaev should be spared the death penalty.
Revere Police Chief Joseph Cafarelli said Friday afternoon that six people he described as witnesses in the Tsarnaev trial are staying at the local Hampton Inn. When asked if those witnesses include members of the Tsarnaev family, he replied, “So I’ve been told.”
Several relatives of Tsarnaev arrived in Boston Thursday, according to a person familiar with the case. Though Tsarnaev’s lawyers have declined to comment, legal experts say defense attorneys in death penalty cases typically solicit family members to testify about a client’s childhood and personality prior to their crimes.
“So far Dzhokhar Tsarnaev is a cardboard figure for the jury,” said former federal judge Nancy Gertner, who now teaches at Harvard Law School. “Anything that humanizes him is a good thing for the defense.”
The defense team has already suggested to jurors that some of its case will focus on Tsarnaev as a troubled and vulnerable young man, rooted in a different culture who became a follower of his radicalized older brother, Tamerlan. Tamerlan was the mastermind of the Marathon bombing, the defense has said. He died during a shoot-out with police.
The defense may use these family members — some of whom may have traveled from as far away as southern Russia — to testify about the impact of being reared in a traditional Chechen Muslim household and to relay to jurors that Tsarnaev, the youngest of four children, had a kind and gentle demeanor for most of his life.
Tsarnaev’s parents, who have Chechen and Avar ethnic roots, emigrated to Cambridge from Dagestan about 13 years ago, when Tsarnaev was about 8 years old. The parents have since returned to southern Russia, and are believed to be living in Dagestan.
It’s unclear which members of Tsarnaev’s family have traveled here, but his mother is not believed to be among them. State Police declined to comment on the Tsarnaev relatives’ arrival in the United States Thursday, but confirmed that Tsarnaev’s mother, Zubeidat, did not enter the country. She has an outstanding warrant on a shoplifting charge from 2012 and could be arrested if she returns.
But Tsarnaev has other relatives abroad who could provide testimony helpful to his defense attorneys as they seek a sentence of life in prison for their client.
That includes Patimat Suleimanova, Tsarnaev’s aunt from Dagestan, who could testify about Tamerlan’s religious fervor and the relationship between Tsarnaev and his older brother. Shortly after the bombings, she told reporters that she could not believe the Tsarnaev brothers committed the bombing.
Suleimanova housed Tamerlan for much of his six-month trip to Dagestan in 2012, about a year before the Marathon bombing. Tamerlan’s resident permit in Russia in 2012 — which was recovered at the scene of the Watertown shoot-out and presented in the first phase of the trial as evidence — listed Suleimanova’s address.
Other relatives living abroad who might offer insight into the family dynamics include two of Tsarnaev’s former brothers-in-law, each of whom was married to one of his older sisters. One has lived in Kazakhstan, and the other is from Chechnya.
Not all of Tsarnaev’s relatives live in southern Russia. Another close relative is Maret Tsarnaev, a sister of Tsarnaev’s father, Anzor, who is a lawyer in Toronto, Canada.
Anzor also has a brother in Maryland, Ruslan Tsarni, who called Dzhokhar and Tamerlan Tsarnaev “losers” after the bombing, but later assisted in the burial of Tamerlan. Tsarni did not return the Globe’s calls this week inquiring about whether he will testify.
Tsarnaev’s two sisters, Bella and Ailina, have lived in the New York-New Jersey metropolitan area. The defense could also call some longtime family friends with Chechen roots, some of whom live in the suburbs of Boston, to address the family’s past.
The funds to bring Tsarnaev’s overseas relatives to Boston for the trial likely comes from federal money approved by the presiding judge for the defense. George Kendall, a New York attorney who specializes in death penalty cases nationwide, said the court system bears the cost of transporting all witnesses, whether they are an expert from a nearby state or a family member from abroad.
The defense must prove to the judge that the witnesses are critical for the defense case, in order for their travel to be paid for by the government, but they are not required to take the stand and testify. Legal specialists say the defense could ask for the family witnesses to help provide guidance on the case, but could decide they don’t need each of them to testify.
But given the expense and time, Kendall said, “I assume anyone brought in from overseas will likely testify.”
Judges often try to fairly fund a defense team’s “mitigation” case to fight the death penalty, knowing that inadequate resources to elicit critical testimony can be cited by lawyers if they seek to appeal and overturn a death sentence.
Revere Police Chief Cafarelli provided further details to reporters Friday, saying that the FBI brought in the group of witnesses to the hotel, which is a short distance from Logan Airport, on Thursday and that another federal agency is now providing security for them.
FBI spokeswoman Kristen Setera declined to confirm that the agency assisted with the security or transportation of any Tsarnaev relatives, citing confidentiality related to the ongoing trial.
Cafarelli said he does not know how long the witnesess will remain here.
“The trial will dictate how long they stay,” he said. “They are here for the forseeable future.”