A lawyer for Azamat Tazhayakov, one of the college friends of Boston Marathon bombing suspect Dzhokhar Tsarnaev who allegedly disposed of evidence during the aftermath of the bombings, argued in the U.S. District Court in Boston on Tuesday that a protective order against making court documents public should be lifted because prosecutors did not make a compelling case for the continued confidentiality of the materials.
Nicholas Wooldridge, Tazhayakov’s attorney, said the protective order has given federal prosecutors the power to say what they want to the public about the case.
“The government is the only one who has been able to comment on some of the discoveries in this case,” he said in the courtroom. “They are the ones who have been able to create a public record by filing a complaint, cherry-picking certain parts of discoveries and putting that in their criminal complaint as well as their indictment. The defendants have basically been muzzled.”
Tazhayakov, 19, pleaded not guilty to obstruction of justice and conspiracy charges on Sept. 13. None of the friends appeared in the courtroom on Tuesday.
Prosecutor John Capin said lifting the protective order would be inappropriate.
“The basis of the order is to protect the litigants, most especially, the defendants, from adverse pre-trial publicity,” he said. “That’s why the order is in place.”
U.S. Magistrate Judge Marianne Bowler said she would take the defense’s argument into advisement.
Lawyers for Dias Kadyrbayev and Robel Phillipos, both friends of Tsarnaev, said they are working with the prosecution on an agreement that would loosen restrictions of the order so the defense and family members of the suspect could have more access to the materials.
The men became friends with Tsarnaev while they all attended the University of Massachusetts-Dartmouth.
Prosecutors said Kadyrbayev, 19, texted Tsarnaev on April 18, three days after the bombings, telling him that he looked like one of the suspects that Federal Bureau of Investigation officials were hunting.
Tazhayakov received a text later that night from Tsarnaev that told the three friends to take whatever they wanted from his dorm room.
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. The items included Tsarnaev’s laptop and his backpack with fireworks inside it. 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, which killed three people and injured more than 260 others.
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 19 after hiding in a dry-docked boat all day. He pleaded not guilty to all charges against him on July 10.
The friends are scheduled to return to court on Jan. 15.