Three friends of Boston Marathon bombing suspect Dzhokhar Tsarnaev pleaded not guilty on Friday at the U.S. District Court in South Boston to charges against them that they hindered the investigation by federal officials.
Authorities allege that Robel Phillipos, Dias Kadyrbayev and Azamat Tazhayakov went to Tsarnaev’s dorm room three days after the bombings and the day that the Federal Bureau of Investigation released photos of the bombing suspects. They are charged with removing several items from Tsarnaev’s room including a laptop, a backpack containing fireworks and a jar of petroleum jelly.
The arraignment marks the first time that the three men were formally charged together since they were arrested on May 1. Kadyrbayev and Tazhayakov were indicted on Aug. 13 and pleaded not guilty, but they had to repeat the process when Phillipos’s case was added to the existing indictment.. They repeated their pleas of not guilty.
The men became friends with Tsarnaev while they all attended the University of Massachusetts-Dartmouth.
Phillipos, 19, resident of Cambridge, was indicted on Aug. 29 on two counts of lying to authorities while he was being questioned. He allegedly relayed false information to officials before acknowledging that he and his friends entered Tsarnaev’s dorm room on April 18 and removed several items.
His lawyers declined to comment after the arraignment, but said in a statement on Friday that his client, who is on house arrest, had nothing to do with the Boston Marathon bombings or destroying any evidence.
“In the end, it will be clear that this prosecution should never have been brought in the first place,” said Derge Demissie and Susan Church, lawyers for Philipos, in the statement.
Kadyrbayev and Tazhayakov, both Kazakhstani nationals, are accused of destroying and concealing some of Tsarnaev’s belongings. They allegedly tossed the backpack of items into a dumpster behind their apartment in New Bedford and watched as a garbage truck took the items away to a landfill. They are both charged with obstruction of justice and conspiracy to obstruct justice.
Kadyrbayev and Tazhayakov face a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison. Phillipos faces a maximum of eight years in prison for each count of making false statements to federal agents.
Tsarnaev, 20, is accused of the April 15 bombings near the finish line of the Boston Marathon that killed three people and injured more than 260.
Law enforcement officials released surveillance photos of Tsarnaev and his brother, Tamerlan, on April 18, which led to a police chase into Watertown that night.
The brothers allegedly killed Massachusetts Institute of Technology Police Department officer Sean Collier as they tried to escape. Tamerlan was killed after a shootout with law enforcement officials and Dzhokhar was captured on April 19after hiding in a dry-docked boat all day. He pleaded not guilty to all charges against him on July 10.
Robert Stahl, attorney for Kadyrbayev, said his client was “shocked and horrified” by the bombings and had “no intent” to obstruct justice.
“I’m saying he didn’t dispose of evidence, didn’t understand it was evidence, and the rest will come out at trial,” Stahl told reporters after the arraignment. “I look forward to proving our case in court.”
Due to a tree falling onto the tracks of an Amtrak train suspending service from New Haven, Conn. to Providence R.I., Tazhayakov’s hearing had to be pushed to later in the afternoon because his legal council was commuting from New York City to Boston.
Judge Marianne Bowler asked Nicholas Woolridge, Tazhayakov’s lawyer, to apologize for being late and to arrive in Boston the night before he has a hearing scheduled before the court.
Woolridge said the case was weak and based on interviews conducted by FBI officials that were not recorded.
“This is a case where you have a government that has rushed into things,” he said to reporters outside the courthouse. “This is basically what the agents said my clients said. This is a witch hunt.”
All three men are due back in court on Oct. 29 for a status conference. Assistant U.S. Attorney John Capin said he expects to call about 20 witnesses during a two-week trial. A date has not been scheduled for the trial.