Boston Bomb Suspect’s Friend Pleads Guilty to Gun Charge

A close friend of Boston Marathon bombing suspect Dzhokhar Tsarnaev pleaded guilty to owning the handgun Tsarnaev allegedly used to murder a police officer in the days after the terrorist attack.

Stephen Silva, who went to high school with Tsarnaev, entered the plea today during a hearing in Boston federal court as part of a sealed agreement. He isn’t accused of participating in the shooting or bombing, which killed three spectators and wounded 260 others in April 2013.

Silva’s plea threatens to hinder Tsarnaev’s defense case less than three weeks before his federal terrorism trial is scheduled to begin in Boston. Prosecutors haven’t publicly linked the gun case to the charges against Tsarnaev or confirmed the connection in court. The origin of the gun had been one of the mysteries surrounding the terror attack.

The accused bomber’s lawyers said during a court hearing yesterday that they may seek to delay the trial because of new information received in the last 48 hours, without elaborating.

Christina Sterling, a spokeswoman for the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Boston, declined to comment on the plea when reached by phone.

Federal agents claim the handgun was used in the execution of 26-year-old Sean Collier, a police officer for the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, three days after the Marathon bombing, Silva’s attorney, Jonathan Shapiro, said in August. The lawyer didn’t respond to a phone call and e-mail seeking comment on today’s hearing.

Tsarnaev, 21, is accused of ambushing Collier in his police cruiser and shooting him during a citywide manhunt for the accused bomber and his brother. The search started after images of the brothers were displayed on TV by federal agents. Tsarnaev’s older brother, Tamerlan, later died in a shootout with police.

Silva was accused in an eight-count indictment in July of crimes including conspiracy to distribute heroin and possession of a 9mm Ruger handgun with an obliterated serial number. Prosecutors claim he owned the weapon until two months before the bombing, according to Shapiro.

Silva was arrested in November 2013 and accused of drug dealing by Massachusetts Bay Transit Authority police. Silva told an officer at the time, “I smoke a lot of weed every day because my best friend was the bomber,” according to an MBTA police report.

In August, prosecutors said Silva faced as long as 40 years in prison on the charge of heroin conspiracy alone.

Friends and family members of Silva, who was a classmate of Tsarnaev in the Cambridge Rindge and Latin School’s class of 2011, attended his arraignment in August. At the time, three of his friends yelled obscenities at reporters and scuffled with a television news cameraman outside the courthouse.

The case is U.S. v. Silva, 1:14-cr-10210, U.S. District Court, District of Massachusetts (Boston).

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