Boston bomber Dzhokar Tsarnaev wipes eyes as aunt breaks down on stand

Nabisat Suleimanova, (left) aunt of the Tsarnaev brothers, and Naida Suleimanova, (right), cousin of the Tsarnaev brothers arrives at John Joseph Moakley United States Courthouse before testifying at the sentencing phase in the Boston Bomber Trial on
Nabisat Suleimanova, (left) aunt of the Tsarnaev brothers, and Naida Suleimanova, (right), cousin of the Tsarnaev brothers arrives at John Joseph Moakley United States Courthouse before testifying at the sentencing phase in the Boston Bomber Trial on  in Boston, Massachusetts. -- PHOTO: AFP

BOSTON (AFP) - Convicted Boston bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev for the first time showed some emotion in court on Monday, wiping his eyes as a distraught aunt was removed from the courtroom, too overcome to testify.

A jury is mulling whether Tsarnaev - found guilty last month of all counts related to the April 15, 2013 attack on the Boston Marathon that killed three people and wounded 264 more - should be sentenced to death or life in prison without parole.

His defence team last week began presenting evidence in a bid to save his life, and had brought his aunt, 64-year-old Patimat Suleimanova, from Russia to testify.

But the woman, her voice choked with sobs, was only able to tell the court her name, age and where she was from before she had to step down and was escorted from the courtroom.

Tsarnaev, a 21-year-old US citizen of Chechen descent, briefly rubbed his eyes, appearing to wipe away tears.

Two of his cousins from Dagestan in southern Russia had earlier taken the stand, describing Tsarnaev as a kind-hearted young boy who cried while watching the Disney animated classic The Lion King.

"He was very kind, very warm... his kindness made everybody kind," said Raisat Suleimanova, a 35-year-old nurse who now lives near Moscow. Her testimony was translated from Russian into English by an interpreter for the court.

She described Tsarnaev's somewhat nomadic childhood, as his parents moved often - from Kyrgyzstan to Chechnya to Dagestan.

Tsarnaev and his brother Tamerlan - who was killed in the days after the marathon bombings as the pair attempted to evade police - virtually lived out of their suitcases, changing schools and friends often.

She offered a glimpse into the life of their mother, Zubeidat, who loved fashion and jewellery before she moved to the United States. But in 2010, when she saw her again, Zubeidat was wearing the hijab.

"It was a shock, knowing the kind of person she used to be," Raisat Suleimanova testified, noting that the family had been "kind of removed" from religion.

Tsarnaev's lawyers were expected to present witnesses testifying on their client's behalf for about two weeks.