Boston bomber’s lawyers focus on brother’s obsession with Islam

The 21-year-old ethnic Chechen was convicted this month of killing three people and injuring 264 in the bombing

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The older brother of convicted Boston Marathon bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev was transformed from a heavy drinker and drugs user into someone obsessed with Islam after returning from a trip to Russia in 2012, witnesses said on Tuesday.

The testimony comes as lawyers for Tsarnaev build their argument for a federal jury that he was a pawn in his now-dead brother’s scheme to bomb the world-renowned race on April 15, 2013, and should be sentenced to life in prison, not death.

The 21-year-old ethnic Chechen was convicted this month of killing three people and injuring 264 in the bombing, and shooting dead a police officer three days later alongside the older brother, Tamerlan.

Rogerio Franca, who lived near the Tsarnaev family in Cambridge, Massachusetts, told jurors Tamerlan was a partier before his trip to Russia but transformed into someone more closely resembling a devout Muslim when he returned.

“Most of the time he was drunk, most of the time he was high,” Franca said of Tamerlan before his trip. Afterward, Franca said he saw Tamerlan in downtown Boston and he appeared “different” - he grew a “big beard,” dressed in white, and his wife was covered and submissive.

“He asked me, you are not Muslim yet? I said no,” Franca said. “I never expected he could ask me such a thing.”

Digital forensics expert Mark Spencer also testified on Tuesday that a computer registered to Tamerlan’s widow, Katherine Russell, showed Internet searches in early 2012 that included “If your husband becomes a shaheed what are the rewards for you?” and “Rewards for wife of mujahideen.”

Spencer said a laptop belonging to Tamerlan contained video clips about Anwar Al Awlaki, an American al Qaeda militant who was killed in a drone strike in 2011, and images of dead and injured civilians in foreign conflicts.

Defense attorneys opened their case on Monday by arguing that 26-year-old Tamerlan, who died following a gunfight with police hours after the police officer’s shooting, was the driving force behind the attack.

Federal prosecutors previously cited al Qaeda materials found on Dzhokhar Tsarnaev’s computers and a note suggesting that the attack was an act of retribution for U.S. military campaigns in Muslim-dominated countries.

Martin Richard, 8, Chinese exchange student Lu Lingzi, 23, and restaurant manager Krystle Campbell, 29, died in the bombing. Richard’s parents and Collier’s sister have urged prosecutors to drop their pursuit of a capital sentence.

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