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The bid to spare Boston Marathon bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev from the death penalty turned jurors' focus to the defendant's father on Tuesday, with a psychiatrist recalling treating the patriarch for post traumatic stress disorder, which rendered him too disabled to work.

The doctor, Alexander Niss, treated Anzor Tsarnaev from 2003-2005 in Cambridge, Massachusetts, where the family had resettled after fleeing the war-torn Russian Caucasus region. The elder Tsarnaev, an ethnic Chechen who worked as a car mechanic, told Niss that he'd been tortured in a Russian soldier camp during the brutal Russian-Chechen war of the 1990s.

"He had anxiety, panic attacks, flashbacks, nightmares. He was hallucinating," Niss said, testifying for the defense in the penalty phase of Dzhokhar Tsarnaev's terror trial. "He had a lot of paranoia. He thought the KGB was following him."

Eventually, Anzor Tsaenaev and his wife moved back to Dagestan, an area in the Northern Caucasus where they'd once lived. They left their children, including Dzhokhar and his older brother, Tamerlan, in Cambridge.

After Niss, the defense called an expert on the Caucasus in an attempt to show that, in accordance with Chechen tradition, Tamerlan Tsarnaev then became the primary caregiver for Dzhokhar.

"it is expected the younger brother will listen to the older brother," the expert, Princeton professor Michael Reynolds said.

That characterization fit the defense's portrayal of Dzhokhar Tsarnaev as having been manipulated into the April 15, 2013 attacks by his older brother.

But that portrait frayed under cross examination by Assistant U.S. Attorney William Weinreb, who got Reynolds, flustered, to acknowledge that Anzor Tsarnaev had two brothers in the United States who arguably could have taken over the patriarchal role — and that the "cult of the elders" had diminished among ethnic Chechens.


—Tom Winter, Andy Thibault and Jon Schuppe