BOSTON — Dzhokhar Tsarnaev has maintained an impassive or stoic demeanor throughout his trial. Even as survivors told of the carnage he inflicted at the 2013 Boston Marathon, and family members described how he killed their loved ones, he barely seemed to flinch.
But on Monday, as his aunts and other relatives from Russia testified on his behalf, in their native tongue, he reached for a tissue, dabbed his eyes and appeared to weep.
The relatives testifying were crying too, even sobbing outright. One was crying so uncontrollably, gasping for breath, that she had to leave the stand after a few minutes.
It was an unusual display of emotion all around on Monday as the defense team pressed forward with its case to try to spare Tsarnaev’s life.
Last month, in the first phase of the trial, the jury convicted Tsarnaev, 21, of all 30 charges against him in connection with the bombing of the marathon, which killed three people and injured 264 others. In this, the penalty phase, the government is arguing that he be sentenced to death, while the defense wants him sentenced to life in prison without parole.
As part of its case, the defense has sought to humanize him, with witness after witness speaking to his sweetness and sensitivity. The prosecution has called him unrepentant and said he had no remorse for the lives he took and the mayhem he caused.
William Weinreb, the lead prosecutor, on Monday criticized the portrayal of Tsarnaev as a kind and endearing boy. “But you’d agree that the bombing of innocent people is not an act of kindness?” he asked one witness, a cousin, who was told not to answer the question.
The same cousin had testified that as a wboy, Tsarnaev had cried during the movie “The Lion King” when Mufasa, the father lion, dies. Weinreb pressed her: “Would you agree that someone who cries at the death of a cartoon character but is indifferent to the suffering of hundreds of people—.” He was cut off before he could finish his question.