Boston Bomb Suspect’s Friends Lose Bid to Bar EvidenceErik Larson and Janelle Lawrence
Two college friends accused of conspiring to thwart a probe into the Boston Marathon bombing after their classmate was implicated failed to persuade a judge to throw out admissions they made to federal agents.
Robel Phillipos and Azamat Tazhayakov, who attended classes with bombing suspect Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, have argued their statements weren’t voluntary. U.S. District Judge Douglas Woodlock in Boston yesterday rejected their requests to bar the government from using the statements at trial. He said he based his decision on papers that have been filed under seal.
Phillipos, Tazhayakov and a third friend, Dias Kadyrbayev, are accused of removing a laptop and a backpack containing explosives-making materials from Tsarnaev’s dormitory room three days after the April 2013 bombing killed three people and injured 260.
Kadyrbayev’s request to suppress statements he made to federal agents was put on hold by Woodlock yesterday until a language expert can testify later this month. Tazhayakov and Kadyrbayev are Kazakhstan citizens living in Massachusetts on student visas, while Phillipos is a U.S. citizen.
As the manhunt for Tsarnaev, 20, and his brother spread across Boston, then-FBI Director Robert Mueller ordered the apartment shared by Kadyrbayev and Tazhayakov searched without a warrant, FBI Special Agent John Walker testified May 13.
FBI agents who initially believed Tsarnaev may have been hiding with his friends testified May 14 that Tazhayakov and Kadyrbayev were questioned for more than four hours at a state police barracks without lawyers present. The men, who had been ordered to strip to the waist during the apartment raid, were shirtless throughout the interrogation.
Matthew Myers, Tazhayakov’s lawyer, said after a hearing on the matter yesterday that Woodlock made a mistake.
“When a kid is placed in handcuffs for a period of time and kept shirtless in the freezing cold, he’s under a degree of duress,” Myers said. “There’s different forms of coercion that don’t involve putting a gun to someone’s head.”
The three men wanted their statements to be excluded from their trials, the first of which is set to start June 30. They’re being tried separately from Tsarnaev, who faces a possible death penalty if he’s convicted at a trial scheduled to begin in November.
Two FBI agents testified that the friends’ cooperation was voluntary, saying Tazhayakov and Kadyrbayev had signed declarations acknowledging their rights and didn’t ask for lawyers. The two signed papers allowing a search of their home and a search of their computers, the agents said.
The three friends were detained following what they said was a bid to protect Tsarnaev from authorities after his image was shown on television as a suspect.
Federal prosecutors submitted as evidence in the case transcripts of jailhouse phone calls in Russian between Kadyrbayev and his girlfriend, who says FBI agents made a mess of their apartment during the search.
“Everything that I did, everything that I signed, I signed it on my own,” Kadyrbayev said in the phone call. “Then they asked me, right, ‘Will you give permission?’ and I gave.”
In another call, Kadyrbayev’s girlfriend said she was concerned that he didn’t have a lawyer with him at a grand jury.
“The lawyer was not allowed to be in there,” Kadyrbayev said. “I don’t know.”
The government also gave the court a series of text messages from Kadyrbayev’s phone after the bombings, including messages from Tsarnaev, whose name appears on the documents as Jahar.
“U saw the news?” he asks Tsarnaev.
“Yea bro I did ... Better not text me my friend ... lol,” Tsarnaev replied before telling him he could take anything he wanted from his dorm room.
The case is U.S. v. Kadyrbayev, 13-cr-10238, U.S. District Court, District of Massachusetts (Boston). The Tsarnaev case is U.S. v. Tsarnaev, 13-cr-10200, U.S. District Court, District of Massachusetts (Boston).