BOSTON (AP) — For the first time, Boston Marathon bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev dropped his blank, impassive demeanor and cried as his sobbing aunt briefly took the stand Monday in his federal death penalty trial before she was asked to step down to compose herself.
Tsarnaev, 21, wiped tears from his eyes quickly and fidgeted in his chair as his mother's sister sobbed uncontrollably. He had maintained a disinterested expression since his trial began in January.
The aunt, Patimat Suleimanova, cried as she sat down about 10 feet from Tsarnaev. The tears began falling before she began to testify, and she was only able to answer questions about her name, her year of birth and where she was born.
After a few minutes, Judge George O'Toole Jr. suggested that the defense call a different witness so she could compose herself. As she left the stand, Tsarnaev used a tissue to wipe his eyes and nose.
Tsarnaev was convicted last month of 30 federal charges in the bombings, including 17 that carry the possibility of the death penalty. He moved to the U.S. with his family in 2002 and committed the bombings when he was 19.
Prosecutors say Tsarnaev was an equal partner in the bombings with his radicalized older brother, Tamerlan, and have urged the jury to sentence him to death.
Tsarnaev's lawyers say Tamerlan, 26, was the mastermind of the attack and lured his brother into his plan. Tamerlan died days after the bombings following a shootout with police.
A cousin testified Monday that Dzhokhar was a kind and warm child, so gentle that he once cried while watching "The Lion King."
"I think that his kindness made everybody around him kind," Raisat Suleimanova said through a Russian translator.
Assistant U.S. Attorney William Weinreb pounced, asking her if she believes a deadly attack on innocent civilians can be considered kind. Tsarnaev's lawyer objected, and Suleimanova was not allowed to answer the question.
In all, five of Tsarnaev's family members are expected to take the witness stand in federal court.
Prosecutors urged the judge last week to press Tsarnaev's lawyers to make sure his relatives testify soon because 16 FBI agents have been assigned to guard and protect them while they are in the United States. The family members arrived in Boston on April 23.
"It's an enormous expense and distraction for the agency, and that's just part of the expense that the government has endured," Weinreb said during a sidebar discussion in court with Tsarnaev's lawyers and the judge, according to a transcript that was made public.