Jahar Tsarnaev: A preference for cats or dogs

Jahar Tsarnaev: A preference for cats or dogs

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Jurors are hearing testimony as to whether Jahar Tsarnaev should be excuted or just tossed into a cell and forgotten.

BOSTON, May 5, 2015 – As reporters live Tweeted tearful testimony from the death penalty phase of convicted Boston Marathon bomber Dzhokhar “Jahar” Tsarnaev’s trial, a spirited debate broke out in the Twitterverse about whether the defendant preferred cats over dogs.

According to trial watchers, the Tsarnaev brother’s relationships with animals may become a key factor when the jury decides whether Jahar should be sentenced to die for his crimes.

Jahar’s friend Rosa Booth was on the stand  when the defense showed a seemingly innocuous picture of Jahar at a 2012 backyard BBQ with a poodle named Dempsy and some friends from his alma mater, Cambridge Rindge and Latin High School.

Dempsy is looking up at Jahar, mesmerized.

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“Jahar had a special relationship with Dempsy,” said Booth, explaining that the dog really took to Jahar because Jahar loved the dog and often spoiled Dempsy with treats.

That sparked an exchange on Twitter between this reporter and WGBH’s Adam Reilly debating whether Jahar “the Lion” preferred cats or dogs.

At the heart of the debate was a kitten named Bebe that lived in the Tsarnaev family’s apartment in Cambridge, Mass., in the months leading up to the bombings. In November 2012, Jahar himself Tweeted about his affection for the new family pet.

Whether Jahar loved these animals and treated them well might normally be irrelevant to the jury, except that in this case, court watchers have speculated that the defense is trying to show that Jahar is not a psychopath who deserves to be sentenced to death for his crimes.

In a 2011 article in Psychology Today, Joni Johnston, Psy.D. explains:

Since the 1970’s, research has consistently reported childhood cruelty to animals as the first warning sign of later delinquency, violence, and criminal behavior.  In fact, nearly all violent crime perpetrators have a history of animal cruelty in their profiles.  Albert deSalvo, the Boston Strangler found guilty of killing 13 women, shot arrows through dogs and cats he trapped as a child.  Columbine shooters Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold boasted about mutilating animals for fun.

In this case, neither Tsarnaev brother has any known history of mistreating animals. According to sources close to the family, the cat in Jahar’s Twitter feed actually belongs to his deceased older brother Tamerlan- the same brother the defense says is the diabolical mastermind behind the deadly April 15, 2013, attacks.

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According to the NY Post, on April 20, 2013, Tamerlan’s wife Katherine “Karima” Russell Tsarnaeva returned to the couple’s Cambridge apartment to collect the cat before returning to live with her parents in Rhode Island.

A source close to the family who did not wish to be identified explained:
“Karima had a helluva time getting the cat into the carrier when she was going to stay with her parents. The cat only obeyed Tamerlan so Karima couldn’t get it to do anything. She felt bad and brought it back to the breeder they had gotten the cat from because the breeder still had the mom and dad cat. Karima tried calling more than once to find out how the cat was doing but the breeders saw her as the bombers wife and would never return her calls or answer her.”

Another picture of Tamerlan snuggling with a different pet cat also suggests that the Tsarnaev brothers were animal lovers before they were the Boston Bombers. A source told this reporter that at least one of the cats may have been hit by a car after the FBI raided the Tsarnaev’s Cambridge apartment during the early morning hours of April 19.

That story could not be confirmed.

A psychologist is expected to testify this week to provide insight as to Jahar’s mental development at the time of the crimes. It is not yet known whether Jahar or Tamerlan ever received any sort of formal mental health diagnosis before or after the bombings.

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