Boston Marathon bombing defendant Dzhokhar Tsarnaev’s close friend pleaded guilty to obstructing the federal probe into the attack by removing evidence from Tsarnaev’s dorm room after he was identified as a suspect.
Dias Kadyrbayev, 20, a citizen of Kazakhstan who attended college with Tsarnaev at the University of Massachusetts in Dartmouth, changed his plea to guilty today in Boston federal court, the U.S. Attorney’s Office said in a statement.
Kadyrbayev, who previously pleaded not guilty, was scheduled for trial next month. He admitted removing a backpack containing fireworks and a laptop from Tsarnaev’s dorm in a bid to protect him, prosecutors said.
Kadyrbayev “made a terrible error in judgment,” partly as a result of “inexperience with our criminal justice system and cultural differences as a foreign college student,” his defense attorney, Robert Stahl, said in a statement. “Dias now understands he never should have gone to the dorm room and he never should have taken any items.”
His housemate, Azamat Tazhayakov, who is also from Kazakhstan, visited the dorm room at the same time and was convicted of obstruction last month following a jury trial. The friends, who like Tsarnaev are Russian-speaking Muslims, aren’t accused of aiding the terrorist attack or knowing about it in advance.
The double bombing in dense crowds near the marathon’s finish line on April 15, 2013, killed three people and wounded 260.
Kadyrbayev entered the U.S. in 2011 on a student visa that wasn’t valid at the time of his arrest because he had failed to show up for classes, the U.S. said. He faces as long as seven years in prison when he’s sentenced, prosecutors said.
As part of a plea deal with the government, Kadyrbayev admitted taking the items and later disposing of the backpack after exchanging text messages with Tsarnaev in which the bombing suspect said, “Better not text me my friend” and invited Kadyrbayev to go to his dorm and “take what’s there,” according to the prosecutors’ statement.
Andrew Dwinells, Tsarnaev’s roommate, testified at Tazhayakov’s trial that he saw the friends enter the room. Federal agents testified the friends admitted taking the items in interviews after they were arrested.
Kadyrbayev will be able to argue for a lesser sentence and will seek to return to his family in Kazakhstan after serving his time, according to Stahl.
Tsarnaev, 20, faces a possible death sentence if a jury finds him guilty at a trial set to start Nov. 3 in Boston. He allegedly sought to justify the attacks as retribution for the killing of innocent Muslim civilians by the U.S. government, including in the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, according to prosecutors.
A third friend of Tsarnaev’s, Robel Phillipos, is scheduled for trial next month over allegations he lied to authorities about what he knew about the dorm room visit. He has pleaded not guilty.
The case 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).