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Tsarnaev's Former Best Friend Takes The Stand In Boston Bombing Trial


Two starkly different pictures of admitted Boston Marathon bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev emerged at his trial today as his former best friend took the stand. NPR's Tovia Smith was there and she joins us now. And Tovia, when this witness, Stephen Silva, came to the stand, he was called by prosecutors to testify against Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, right?

TOVIA SMITH, BYLINE: Yes, Silva has got his own issues with the law. He's facing gun and drug charges, and prosecutors are offering him a break if he helps them by testifying in this case against Tsarnaev, who Silva said was once a best friend. So Silva told jurors how he lent Tsarnaev the gun that was ultimately used by the Tsarnaev brothers in the murder of a campus policeman, the carjacking and the shootout with police. Silva also told jurors about a class discussion once on whether terrorism could ever be justified and how Tsarnaev seemed to suggest it could. According to Silva, Tsarnaev said the U.S. was hostile to Muslims and shouldn't be allowed to, quote, "force its beliefs on others."

BLOCK: And that would seem to boost the case prosecutors are trying to make, which is to cast Dzhokhar Tsarnaev as politically motivated. How did his defense respond to that?

SMITH: Really aggressively. On cross-examination, they used the same guy, Silva, to make their case that Tsarnaev was actually this nice guy, popular, Silva said, kind-hearted, never violent, not full of animosity toward the U.S. Also, Silva said Tsarnaev was definitely intimidated by his older brother. Silva said Tsarnaev told him not to come over, in fact, because his brother was, quote, "opinionated and strict," and wouldn't like that Silva wasn't Muslim. You don't want to meet my brother, Tsarnaev said, according to Silva. And also, the defense got Silva to admit that when he learned Tsarnaev was a suspect in the bombing, he posted on Facebook that he was sure the older brother must've made him do it.

BLOCK: Well, that's something that the defense had alluded to in their opening statements - that Dzhokhar Tsarnaev was a pawn of his older brother, Tamerlan. They haven't been able to get into that much before today, though, right?

SMITH: That's right. Just after the defense admitted Tsarnaev did it, they said the real question is why. And they want to persuade jurors that Tsarnaev, because of family dynamics and culture, really couldn't defy his domineering older brother, and they're hoping that'll help him avoid the death penalty. But the judge has ruled that argument has to wait until sentencing, so the defense has been limited. And I would say today they managed to advance that case more than they've been able to do so far.

BLOCK: Also today, Tovia, jurors heard from the owner of the boat where Dzhokhar Tsarnaev was found hiding. What did he have to say?

SMITH: He said he actually noticed something was amiss on his boat in his backyard early in the morning after the shootout, but kind of figured it was just the wind. And anyway, he didn't want to go outside to check because the whole area was in lockdown. So he waited like eight hours before he went out, investigated, and he said it took him a split second or so to take it in when he saw the body before he called police.

BLOCK: OK, NPR's Tovia Smith covering the trial of Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, the accused Boston Marathon bomber in Boston. Tovia, thanks so much.

SMITH: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Tovia Smith is an award-winning NPR National Correspondent based in Boston, who's spent more than three decades covering news around New England and beyond.

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