Two friends of Boston Marathon bombing suspect Dzhokhar Tsarnaev pleaded not guilty to charges that they tried to obstruct a federal investigation into the case by destroying evidence.
Dias Kadyrbayev and Azamat Tazhayakov, both 19, entered pleas at an arraignment in federal court in Boston today on three counts of obstructing justice and aiding and abetting. They were arrested April 20 and are being held without bail.
Both men appeared in court wearing prison-issued orange jumpsuits and waived a reading of the indictment. Assistant U.S. Attorney Stephanie Siegmann told U.S. Magistrate Judge Marianne Bowler that she expects the trial to last two weeks and the government to call 15 to 20 witnesses. Bowler scheduled a status hearing for Sept. 26.
On April 15, two explosions occurred in Boston near the finish line of the annual marathon, killing three people and injuring more than 200. Three days later, the FBI published images of the principal suspects, Dzhokhar Tsarnaev and his brother, Tamerlan.
Kadyrbayev and Tazhayakov, citizens of Kazakhstan who attended the University of Massachusetts in Dartmouth with Dzhokhar, saw the images online and recognized their friend, prosecutors said. They went to Tsarnaev’s dormitory, removed his laptop computer and a backpack containing fireworks and a jar of Vaseline and brought the items to their apartment in New Bedford, Massachusetts, according to the indictment.
The backpack was placed in a garbage bag and tossed in a trash bin, according to the prosecutors. The Federal Bureau of Investigation recovered it from a landfill about a week later.
One of the suspects told the other that Tsarnaev had used the Vaseline to make bombs, according to the indictment. Also, the suspects saw that the fireworks had been opened and emptied of powder, according to court records.
“We look forward to the evidence eventually proving that Dias did not obstruct justice, nor knowingly or intentionally take evidence from Dzhokhar Tsarnaev’s dorm room,” Robert Stahl, a lawyer for Kadyrbayev, said in a statement after the arraignment. “When authorities first approached him, he fully cooperated and for nearly 12 hours over two days Dias answered the FBI’s questions without an attorney or a Kazakh consular official present.”
Arkady Bukh, a lawyer for Tazhayakov, said outside the courtroom that his client is “feeling very strong, very positive.”
Tazhayakov’s father, Amir Ismagulov, said through the lawyer that if his son “wanted to assist Tsarnaev, he would hide the computer.” Lawyers for both defendants said their clients handed over Tsarnaev’s computer to investigators.
Tazhayakov’s mother and brother also attended the hearing with a baby who crawled away from the cousin who was minding her, prompting the judge to say, “This child cannot be crawling around in the courtroom.” The family took the child out of the room.
Also arrested was Robel Phillipos, 19, another friend of Tsarnaev’s who the FBI said accompanied the other two to the dorm room and helped remove the items. He was charged with making false statements to federal investigators. According to a court filing, he’s in plea negotiations with the government.
Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, a native of Chechnya in Russia, was arrested April 19 in Watertown, Massachusetts, hiding in a boat after Tamerlan was killed in a shootout with police.
Dzhokhar pleaded not guilty on July 10 to 30 counts, including murder, and could face the death penalty if convicted. Prosecutors said the brothers were motivated by the radical Islamic group al-Qaeda.
The obstruction case is U.S. v. Kadyrbayev, 13-cr-10238, U.S. District Court, District of Massachusetts (Boston). The bombing case is U.S. v. Tsarnaev, 13-cr-10200, U.S. District Court, District of Massachusetts (Boston).