A college classmate of Dzhokhar Tsarnaev and other young men tried to protect him because he was a friend “who they knew was being investigated for the Boston Marathon bombings,” a prosecutor told a federal court jury.
Azamat Tazhayakov went to Tsarnaev’s residence with two classmates at the University of Massachusetts at Dartmouth and removed a laptop and a backpack containing explosives-making materials, Assistant U.S. Attorney Stephanie Siegmann said today as the first Marathon bombing-related trial started in Boston.
The alleged acts by Tazhayakov, 20, who’s charged with obstruction of justice in a terrorism investigation, came as authorities sought Tsarnaev three days after the April 2013 bombing that killed three people and injured 260.
“They discussed what to do with the backpack,” Siegmann said. “The evidence will show the defendant and his roommate decided to get rid of it.”
Hours after the Marathon bombing, Tsarnaev texted Tazhayakov, “Don’t go thinking it’s me,” the prosecutor said.
Tazhayakov used his computer to look at photos of the bombing suspects released by the Federal Bureau of Investigation, she said. Then he and the two other friends went to Tsarnaev’s room, she said.
The men took a laptop, Vaseline, a bag of marijuana and a thumb drive from the room, she said. While they were gathering the items, one held up the jar and said Tsarnaev used the Vaseline in making the bombs, Siegmann said.
“The defendant thought Dzhokhar Tsarnaev was one of the Boston Marathon bombers,” she said.
Nicholas Wooldridge, a defense attorney, told the jury that one of the others, Dias Kadyrbayev, took the backpack.
“I’ll tell you right now he didn’t do it,” Wooldridge said of his client. “He pled not guilty and he means it.”
Tazhayakov was watching a movie when the other man took the pack, the lawyer said.
“My client never even touched that backpack and he never tossed it in a Dumpster,” he said. “That was the other guy, Dias Kadyrbayev.”
“You’re going to see a lot of doubt in this case, especially when it comes to intent, my client’s mental state,” Wooldridge said. “Azamat’s actions will show he never intended to obstruct justice. He never intended to help the bomber.”
Tazhayakov took only a pair of his headphones that Tsarnaev had taken from him, leaving behind incriminating items including the white hat Tsarnaev was wearing in surveillance photos, wires and wire cutters, according to the defense.
Tazhayakov, Kadyrbayev and Robel Phillipos are charged only with actions taken after the bombing. None is accused of being involved the attack itself, the deadliest terrorist strike in the U.S. since Sept. 11, 2001.
Kadyrbayev, who’s charged with conspiracy, and Phillipos, charged with making false statements to federal agents, are to be tried later.
If convicted, Tazhayakov faces as long as 20 years in prison.
Siegmann said the government will present evidence that Tsarnaev in March told the defendant during a meal at a restaurant that he believed martyrdom was the way to heaven.
Tsarnaev, 20, faces trial later this year and could be sentenced to death if convicted. He pleaded not guilty to a 30-count indictment accusing him of masterminding the attack with his brother, Tamerlan, who was killed during a police manhunt.
The three friends argued in May to U.S. District Judge Douglas Woodlock that their statements to federal agents after a raid on the apartment shared by Tazhayakov and Kadyrbayev should be disallowed as evidence against them because they were involuntary.
Woodlock rejected Tazhayakov’s and Phillipos’s arguments. The judge said he will reconsider Tazhayakov’s during the trial and might hear evidence during the trial with the jury out of the room on whether his statements were voluntary. The judge hasn’t ruled on Kadyrbayev’s statements.
FBI agents who initially believed Tsarnaev might have been hiding with his friends testified in May that Tazhayakov and Kadyrbayev were questioned for more than four hours at a state police barracks without lawyers present.
An FBI agent testified that Tazhayakov was shirtless and handcuffed when he was brought in for questioning and was cooperative.
“He was extremely relaxed and smiled,” said Agent Sara Wood of the bureau’s New York office.
Tazhayakov was asked to read aloud the opening lines of an advice-of-rights form, she said, then he signed it. “At this time I am willing to answer questions without a lawyer present,” according to the form.
Outside the courthouse, Tazhayakov’s father, Amir Ismagulov, said his son is innocent “and has done nothing wrong to the people of Boston.”
Speaking in Russian through an interpreter, Ismagulov said he regrets having told Tazhayakov to cooperate with the FBI.
“He followed the advice of his father to give the maximum information,” Ismagulov said. If he could change his advice, “I would send him to the lawyer from day one,” he said.
Ismagulov, a Kazakhstan oil executive, and his wife have been living in Boston since their son’s arrest and have attended each court hearing. Tazhayakov is his oldest child.
The defense is receiving assistance from a jury consultant, Richard Gabriel, who was in the courtroom during jury selection. Gabriel worked for the defense in trials including those of Enron Corp. executives, O.J. Simpson and music producer Phil Spector, according to his company, Los Angeles-based Decision Analysis.
The case against the three friends is U.S. v. Kadyrbayev, 13-cr-10238, and the Tsarnaev case is U.S. v. Tsarnaev, 13-cr-10200, U.S. District Court, District of Massachusetts (Boston).
To contact the reporter on this story: Janelle Lawrence inn federal court in Boston at email@example.com.