April 16, 2015 – Members of Dzhokhar Tsarnaev’s family tell TIME they tried in vain to dismiss his defense lawyers. Throughout the trial of Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, the 21-year-old who was convicted last week of bombing the Boston Marathon in 2013, his family resisted the urge to speak out publicly in his defense.
Tsarnaev’s defense team had advised them not to grant interviews, they say, as it could risk his chances at trial. But when the jury issued its guilty verdict on April 8, convicting him on 17 counts that could each carry the death penalty, some of his relatives decided to go public with their outrage. On the evening of April 14, three members of the Tsarnaev family met at a café in the city of Grozny, close to their ancestral home in southern Russia, and told a TIME reporter how the trial had torn their family apart, how helpless they felt against what they see as an American conspiracy against them and, above all, how they still hope to convince Tsarnaev to fire his legal team and seek to overturn the verdict on appeal.
“It would be so much easier if he had actually committed these crimes,” says his aunt Maret Tsarnaeva. “Then we could swallow this pain and accept it.”
But two years after the bombing that killed three people and wounded hundreds near the race’s finish line on April 15, 2013, they still refuse to admit Tsarnaev’s guilt. From their homes in Chechnya and Dagestan, two predominantly Muslim regions of Russia, some of his family members have tried to convince Tsarnaev to fire his court-appointed lawyer, Judy Clarke, who has taken a surprising approach to his defense.
In one of her first arguments before the jury after entering a not-guilty plea, Clarke said that her client is indeed responsible for the “senseless, horrific, misguided acts.” But in committing these crimes, she argued that he was acting under the direction of his older brother Tamerlan, who was killed in a shootout with authorities soon after the bombing.
This line of defense has outraged many of Tsarnaev’s relatives, who have tried to convince him to dismiss Clarke and ask for a lawyer who will argue his innocence. “Why do we even need defense attorneys if they just tell the jury he is guilty?” his aunt asks. “What’s the point?”