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By Richard A. Serrano, Tribune Washington Bureau (TNS)

BOSTON — Close to wrapping up their case, defense lawyers for Boston Marathon bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev portrayed their client Tuesday as the product of a troubled and ailing Chechen father who suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder, and an angry, aggressive older brother who often picked fights in Boston.

Tsarnaev was found guilty last month on all 30 charges in the April 2013 bombings, and the jury of seven women and five men will soon be deciding whether the 21-year-Russian immigrant is moved to death row or spends the rest of his life in prison with no parole.

Defense lawyers, hoping for the life sentence, on Tuesday sought to show how he was affected by family members, from their history in the Chechen region to their immigration to Boston when Tsarnaev was eight.

There has been much testimony in the trial about his mother, Zubeidat Tsarnaev, who became a strict Muslim at the time that her oldest son, Tamerlan Tsarnaev, was becoming an Islamic radical.

Testimony Tuesday was the first that centered on his father, Anzor Tsarnaev.

Dr. Alexander Niss, a former Boston psychiatrist who now practices in Los Angeles, testified that for two years he treated the father for PTSD, nightmares, anxiety, hallucinations, and near dementia. Niss said the father, a former boxer, was deeply affected by the Chechen wars in the 1990s.

“He had a lot of anxiety, and panic attacks,” Niss said. “He had flashbacks. He had a lot of paranoia. He was afraid of the Russian KGB, thought they were following him and looking through his window at his home.”

The father, who is living in Russia, was not called to testify.

Amanda Ransom, a college friend of Tamerlan’s wife, described Tamerlan’s cruel behavior, saying he dressed flashy, drove a Mercedes and was prone to starting fights. She recalled him once angrily punching a man for speaking to his wife Katherine and said she sometimes could hear him screaming and throwing things at her as well.

One night in their school dorm, she said, “I heard him laughing and she was crying in her room. After they had had sex he told her he had AIDS and when she started to cry, he laughed at her. He said he wasn’t serious, it was a joke.”

Henry Alvarez, a fellow high school wrestler with Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, said he had been shocked to learn that his former teammate was arrested in the bombings. “I never could imagine he would do something like this,” Alvarez said.

The defense is expected to put on expert testimony about the harsh conditions at the federal Supermax prison, where Tsarnaev presumably would go if he is sentenced to life, and then end its case Wednesday or Thursday.

Photo: Boston Marathon Bombing via Facebook

Poll: Most Parents Oppose Rapid School Reopening

Numerous local school systems around the country are plowing ahead with plans to resume in-person instruction despite growing evidence that children are just as capable of spreading the coronavirus as adults.

Classes were set to begin on Monday in Baker County, Florida. Masks for students will be optional, not required. "It looks like it's back to normal this morning, honestly," a local television reporter observed as parents dropped their kids off in the morning. Many students wore no face coverings.

The Trump administration and the GOP have pushed for full reopening of schools for months."Schools in our country should be opened ASAP," Donald Trump tweeted in May. "Much very good information now available."

"SCHOOLS MUST OPEN IN THE FALL!!!" he reiterated on July 6.

"The science and data is clear: children can be safe in schools this fall, and they must be in school this fall," demanded Rep. Andy Biggs (R-AZ) on Aug. 1.

"I believe our schools can, and should rise to the occasion of re-opening for in-person education this fall," agreed Rep. Andy Harris (R-MD) two days later.

"The CDC and Academy of Pediatrics agree: We can safely get students back in classrooms," tweeted House Minority Whip Steve Scalise (R-LA) last Tuesday.

But while Scalise, Mike Pence, and Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos have all cited the American Academy of Pediatrics in their arguments for reopening, a new study by the group and the Children's Hospital Association raises red flags about how safe that will be.

Their report found 338,982 reported coronavirus cases in children as of July 30 in the United States. Between July 16 and July 30, the nation saw a 40% increase — 97,078 new infected children.

Last week, a high school student in an Atlanta suburb posted a photo online showing few students wearing masks in a crowded school hallway. Since that time, at least six students and three adult employees in the school have reportedly contracted the coronavirus, and the school temporarily has switched to online classes.

Another Georgia school district has already seen at least 13 students and staff members test positive since reopening a week ago.

A recent study in South Korea found that children aged ten and older spread the coronavirus at the same rates adults do. A separate study in Chicago suggested young kids might also be effective spreaders.

These contradict the false claims made by Trump and his administration that kids have an "amazing" near immunity to COVID-19.

"If you look at children, children are almost — and I would almost say definitely, but almost immune from this disease, so few. They've got stronger, hard to believe, and I don't know how you feel about it, but they have much stronger immune systems than we do somehow for this," Trump told Fox News on Wednesday.

"You got to open the schools. They have a stronger immune system even than you have or I have," he told Barstool Sports on July 23. "It's amazing. You look at the percentage, it's a tiny percentage of one percent. And in that one case, I mean, I looked at a couple of cases. If you have diabetes, if you have, you know, problems with something, but the kids are in great shape." Children have made up nearly nine percent of all cases, even with schools mostly closed.

And DeVos incorrectly said in a July 16 interview, "More and more studies show that kids are actually stoppers of the disease and they don't get it and transmit it themselves."

In early July, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued guidelines for how schools could operate more safely during the pandemic.

Trump publicly ridiculed the guidelines, dismissing them as "very tough & expensive" and "very impractical."

Published with permission of The American Independent Foundation.