The Boston Marathon bombing suspect who died in a shootout with police in the days after the 2013 attack may have developed paranoia as a result of being approached by federal agents seeking an informant on the Chechen and Muslim community, lawyers for his brother said.
Lawyers for Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, the surviving suspect and younger brother of Tamerlan Tsarnaev, cited family members in saying the Federal Bureau of Investigation propositioned Tamerlan after asking him about his Internet search activities, according to a filing today in federal court in Boston seeking the brothers’ immigration files and other evidence.
“No one other than Tamerlan and the agents involved were actual witnesses to what transpired, and absent verification from the government itself, the defense will have no direct evidence to establish the reasons for these contacts, or their number, nature, and content,” David Bruck, one of Tsarnaev’s lawyers, said in the filing.
The window on Tsarnaev’s defense strategy comes days before the one-year anniversary of the April 15 double bombing that killed three people and wounded more than 260. Tamerlan Tsarnaev, 26, was killed as Boston police zeroed in on the pair in the days after the attack. Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, 20, was captured and charged with using weapons of mass destruction resulting in death. If he’s convicted at a federal trial scheduled for November, he may face the death penalty.
The defense intends to highlight “Dzhokhar’s young age,” as well as his brother’s deeper ties to extremism, in a bid to save Tsarnaev from the death penalty, according to the filing.
Bruck said the story about the FBI contact came from the Tsarnaev brothers’ family members. He said the contact may help explain why Tamerlan Tsarnaev became more radical than his brother, and provide evidence to convince a jury that Dzhokhar Tsarnaev shouldn’t be executed if he’s found guilty.
Prosecutors told the defense team they had “no evidence” of such contact with the elder Tsarnaev and argued they shouldn’t have to turn over the requested files, according to an excerpt of the government’s response that was included in Bruck’s filing.
Greg Comcowich, a spokesman for the FBI in Boston, didn’t immediately respond to a phone message seeking comment on the filing.
The defense has “reason to believe that Tamerlan misinterpreted the visits and discussions with the FBI as pressure and that they amounted to a stressor that increased his paranoia and distress,” Bruck said. “We do not suggest that these contacts are to be blamed and have no evidence to suggest that they were improper, but rather view them as an important part of the story of Tamerlan’s decline.”
Evidence of the government’s contact with Tamerlan Tsarnaev may affect how jurors view his brother’s case, according to the filing.
“The jury’s sentencing verdict in this case could well turn on how it apportions the brothers’ relative responsibility for conceiving and carrying out the attacks, and on the extent to which it views Tamerlan Tsarnaev as having induced or coerced his younger brother to help commit them,” Bruck said in the filing.
The case is U.S. v. Tsarnaev, 13-cr-10200, U.S. District Court, District of Massachusetts (Boston).