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Tamerlan Tsarnaev's Fanaticism Becomes Focus of Boston Bomber Penalty Phase

The defense introduced witnesses Tuesday who testified that older brother Tamerlan Tsarnaev had become radicalized before carrying out the attack.
/ Source: NBC News

The older brother of convicted Boston Marathon bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev was the focus of testimony during Tuesday's penalty phase, with the defense detailing Tamerlan Tsarnaev's growing religious fanaticism.

As the defense tries to sway a Boston jury to sentence 21-year-old Dzhokhar Tsarnaev to a term of life in prison instead of death, they again claimed that his older brother manipulated him to take part in the deadly 2013 terror attacks. Tamerlan Tsarnaev, 26, died in a shootout with police four days after the bombing that killed three people and wounded more than 260 others.

Mark Spencer, computer expert for the defense, testified that Tamerlan Tsarnaev's internet searches showed he visited jihadist websites and researched various types of guns, including one that was used to kill a Massachusetts Institute of Technology officer shot dead by the Tsarnaevs during the police manhunt for them.

The MacBook computer belonging to Tamerlan Tsarnaev's wife, Katherine Russell, was also confiscated and found to have searches in 2012 pertaining to jihad and martyrdom, Spencer said. The searches included "wife of Mujahideen," or Holy Warrior, and "rewards for wife of Mujahideen."

Those who knew Tamerlan Tsarnaev from his days as a young boxer also testified Tuesday. Brazilian immigrant Rogerio Franca, who knew him when they both lived in Cambridge, Massachusetts, said Tamerlan Tsarnaev was known for smoking pot and drinking heavily.

But after Tsarnaev returned from Russia in 2012, Franca ran into him and Russell on Boylston Street in Boston. Tsarnaev was wearing a white robe and Russell was covered with a head scarf.

"He asked me, 'You are not Muslim yet?'" Franca said. "I never expect he could ask me such a thing."

Dzhokhar Tsarnaev's attorney, David Bruck, had said in opening statements on Monday that the younger brother was "a good kid" who fell prey to his older brother's intense Islamic radicalism. He made a plea against the death penalty after Dzhokhar Tsarnaev was found guilty of 30 federal charges earlier this month.

"There is no evening the scales," Bruck said. "There is no point in trying to hurt him as he hurt because it can't be done."

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— Tom Winter, Andy Thibault and Erik Ortiz