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.”
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?”
Like many observers of the case in Russia, the Tsarnaev family has claimed — without providing any meaningful evidence — that the bombing was part of a U.S. government conspiracy intended to test the American public’s reaction to a terrorist threat and the imposition of martial law in a U.S. city. “This was all fabricated by the American special services,” Said-Hussein Tsarnaev, the convicted bomber’s uncle, tells TIME. A panel of 12 jurors in Boston reached the verdict after weeks of testimony from some 90 witnesses and 11 hours of deliberations spread over two days.