Azamat Tazhayakov in federal court. Credit: Jane Flavell Collins
A jury on Monday returned a guilty verdict on two of the four counts in the obstruction of justice trial of Azamat Tazhayakov, a friend of accused Boston Marathon bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev.
Tazhayakov, a Kazakh exchange student, was the first of three of Tsarnaev's friends to be charged with interfering in authorities' investigation into the April 15, 2013, attack that killed three people and injured 264.
Prosecutors charged the men with removing a laptop computer and backpack containing empty fireworks shells from Tsarnaev's college dorm room during a manhunt three days after the attack.
Tazhayakov was convicted two charges related to the the removal of the backpack, but was found not guilty on two charges related to the laptop.
He showed little emotion when the verdict was read, however his mother broke down in tears.
Shortly after the verdict came in, Tazhayakov's defense lawyers spoke and said they planned to appeal the verdict and that Tazhayakov is a strong 20-year-old, but that he's "not in a good way."
"It's a brutal day for all of us," said defense attorney Matthew Myers.
"It's difficult to try a case in this culture," he said, referring to Boston as a "bombed city."
Azamat Tazhayakov juror Daniel Antonino speaks to reporters outside federal court in South Boston. Photo: Nicolaus Czarnecki/Metro
Not who he seems?
One of the 12 jurors, 49-year-old Daniel Antonino of Duxbury, told reporters outside the courtroom that this morning there was one juror who was reluctant to find Tazhayakov guilty. In the end, the group was able to come to a unanimous decision.
"They took materials from that room that they should never have touched, and that's what he is going to pay the price for," said Antonino.
The undecided juror was swayed by Tazhayakov's characterization as a passive "Mama's Boy," a persona bestowed upon him by defense attorneys.
But the way in which Tazhayakov snatched a white hat belonging to Tsarnaev's off his friend Dias Kadyrbayev's head during an FBI interrogation and said "just give it to them" showed he was not a "passive person," Antonino said, and that he was someone who was "taking control" of the situation.
He also said the men had taken the laptop "because it was valuable, plain and simple," and not to influence the investigation.
Azamat Tazhayakov's mother departs federal court after her son was found guilty. Photo: Nicolaus Czarnecki/Metro
The saga continues
U.S. Attorney for the District of Massachusetts Carmen Ortiz spoke briefly with reporters and said she was "tremendously gratified" by the jury's decision. Ortiz's office is still moving toward prosecuting two more of Tsarnaev's friends in connection with the obstruction case.
Tazhayakov defense attorney Nicholas Wooldridge predicted a difficult road ahead for the other suspects.
"If Azamat had a difficult time here, everyone is going to have a much worse time because Azamat had the most facts," said Wooldridge.
FBI Special Agent in Charge of the Boston Division Vincent Lisi said he was also pleased with the verdict considering the work that went into the Marathon bombing investigation.
"There was a tremendous amount of hard work and effort that went in this," he said. "When you get a verdict like this it gives you a tremendous amount of satisfaction."
The jury began deliberations on Wednesday after six days of testimony. In their closing arguments, the prosecutors and defense attorneys etched conflicting portraits of Tazhayakov.
Prosecutors contended that Tazhayakov set out to help Tsarnaev when he and two other friends, Kadyrbayev and Robel Phillipos, removed the items from Tsarnaev's dorm room, hours after the FBI had released photos of Tsarnaev and his brother as suspects in the case.
He faces a maximum 20-year prison sentence on the obstruction of justice charge, and up to five years in prison on the conspiracy charge. Sentencing is scheduled for Oct. 16.
The public reacts
Outside the courtroom, Boston-area sisters Nancy Shor and Shelly Aaron watched the ensuing media frenzy unfold.
"I think he was protecting his friend, and he made a really bad mistake and deserves punishment," said Shor. "I'm not sure 25 years is the punishment he deserves. I guess the sentencing hasn't happened yet, I'm hoping it's a little more lenient but I think everyone needs to know that you can't obstruct justice. This is a major tragedy to our city, to the world, and he was involved in obstructing justice. He needs some sort of penalty."
Her sister, though pleased by the outcome of the trial, said she also hoped Tazhayakov would not get the maximum sentence.
"I'm not surprised by the verdict, I just think that going away for 25 years of his life is a very long time," said Aaron.