Two college friends of Boston Marathon bombing suspect Dzhokhar Tsarnaev pleaded not guilty on Tuesday to charges that they obstructed justice by taking evidence from Tsarnaev’s college dormitory room and impeding the bombing investigation.
Arriving in orange jumpsuits to the U.S. District Court in South Boston, Dias Kadyrbayev and Azamat Tazhayakov both said “not guilty” to charges against them.
Both defendants are Kazakh nationals who were college friends with Tsarnaev at the University of Massachusetts-Dartmouth. They were charged with obstructions of justice and conspiracy to obstruct justice on Thursday. They could face up to 20 years in prison and a $250,000 fine.
Kadyrbayev and Tazhayakov allegedly removed a laptop and a backpack containing fireworks and a jar of petroleum jelly, which they believed he used to make bombs, from Tsarnaev’s dorm room after they learned that he was a suspect in the bombings, according to the indictment filed Thursday. They are accused of disposing of the backpack in a garbage bin near their apartment in New Bedford.
A third college friend of Tsarnaev, Robel Phillipos, was arrested with the defendants on May 1 and charged with lying to investigators, but is currently “engaged in negotiations aimed at possible resolution of this matter,” according to court documents filed on Thursday.
Tsarnaev, 20, is accused of causing the April 15 explosions near the finish line of the Boston Marathon that killed three people and injured more than 260.
On April 18, law enforcement officials released surveillance photos of Tsarnaev and his brother, Tamerlan, and they led a police chase into Watertown that night.
Tsarnaev sent Kadyrbayev a text message on April 18 telling them to take what they wanted from his dorm room.
The brothers allegedly killed Massachusetts Institute of Technology Police Department office Sean Collier in their attempts to escape. Tamerlan was killed after a shootout with law enforcement officials and Dzhokhar was captured later that day after hiding in a boat. He pleaded not guilty to all charges against him on July 10.
Tazhayakov’s family were present in the courtroom and his father, Ismagulov, told reporters after the arraignment that he believes his son is being “scapegoated.” Ismagulov spoke to reporters via their attorney, Arkady Bukh, who translated from Russian
“If he wanted to assist in terrorism, he would have hid the computer,” Isamgulov said, referring to the defendants giving Tsarnaev’s computer to investigators when they asked for it. “It appears he was just charged based on his presence there.”
Ismagulov said he is confident that his son will receive a fair trial and that the judicial system will be fair in the trial.
“The U.S. is trying to show democracy to the whole world,” he said. “The court will figure it out and the jury will make the right decision.”
Robert Stahl, Kadyrbayev’s attorney, said in a statement on Tuesday that his client was a regular college student whose only crime was befriending someone who spoke the same language as him.
“We look forward to the evidence eventually proving that Dias did not obstruct justice, nor knowingly or intentionally take evidence from Dzohkhar Tsarnaev’s dorm room,” Stahl said. “He and his family hope that the tragedy and sheer violence of the bombing will not blind justice, that the American justice system will prevail and that his innocence will be proven at trial.”
Kadyrbayev gave the computer from Tsarnaev’s dorm room to investigators and told the police where they could find the backpack with the fireworks, Stahl said.
“Dias comes from a former Soviet-bloc region where police routinely are distrusted, yet 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,” he said. “The FBI recovered all of the items because of Dias’ complete cooperation with their investigation.”
A status conference is scheduled for Sept. 26 and prosecutors said they plan to call 15 to 20 witnesses to the stand during a two-week trial.