A friend believed suspect Dzhokhar Tsarnaev was behind the deadly Boston Marathon bombings when he removed materials he thought had been used to make the bombs from his dorm room, prosecutors said Monday at his trial on obstruction charges.
Azamat Tazhayakov is the first of three of Tsarnaev’s friends to face trial for having removed a laptop and backpack containing fireworks shells from Tsarnaev’s dorm three days after the April 15, 2013, blasts, during the FBI manhunt for the bombers.
Tazhayakov, a Kazakh exchange student, and his roommate, Dias Kadyrbayev, went to Tsarnaev’s room at the University of Massachusetts at Dartmouth after messaging with him following the FBI named Tsarnaev and his older brother, Tamerlan, as suspects in the bombing that killed three people and injured 264.
“When they removed all these things, the defendant thought that Dzhokhar Tsarnaev was one of the Boston Marathon bombers,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Stephanie Siegmann said in opening statements. “The defendant and his roommate took all these steps, removing evidence, hiding evidence … for one reason, one reason: to protect their close friend, Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, who they knew was being investigated for the Boston Marathon bombings.”
Tazhayakov, 20, could face 25 years in prison if convicted of charges of obstruction of justice and conspiracy. He has pleaded not guilty.
Tazhayakov was dressed in a black suit and tie but did not speak at the start of his trial in U.S. District Court in Boston.
Authorities said his actions delayed the arrest of Tsarnaev, who is also charged with killing a police officer at around the time the three friends were in his room.
A key issue in the trial will be whether statements Tazhayakov made to the FBI after he was taken from his New Bedford, Massachusetts, apartment in handcuffs to a police barracks were voluntary.
Fellow Kazakh exchange student Kadyrbayev, who faces similar charges and is awaiting trial, said at a pretrial hearing that he did not believe he was free to go during the interrogation, conducted on April 19, 2013, into the following morning.
Prosecutors said Tazhayakov, Kadyrbayev and a third friend, Robel Phillipos of Cambridge, Massachusetts, recognized Tsarnaev as one of the suspects in photos the FBI released after the blasts, which were the largest mass casualty attack on U.S. soil since Sept. 11, 2001.
They contacted Tsarnaev, who asked them to go to his dorm room and take anything they wanted. Tsarnaev and his older brother, Tamerlan, tried to leave Boston that night, with Tamerlan dying after a gun battle with police.
Tsarnaev, 20, is awaiting trial on charges that carry the death penalty if he is convicted.
Phillipos faces the lesser charge of lying to investigators.
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