A friend of Boston Marathon bombing suspect, Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, was convicted Monday of obstructing investigation into the terrorist attack that killed 3 people and injured more than 260 during the 2013 Boston Marathon.
After about 14 hours of deliberations over three days, a 12-member jury in the U.S. District Court in South Boston found former University of Massachusetts Dartmouth student Azamat Tazhayakov guilty of one count of obstruction of justice and one count of conspiring to obstruct justice. The charges bear maximum sentences of 20 years and five years in prison, respectively.
The jury determined that Tazhayakov, a 20-year-old international student from Kazakhstan, played a role in removing a backpack from Tsarnaev’s dorm room on April 18, 2013, a few hours after the Federal Bureau of Investigation broadcast photographs of bombing suspects Dzhokhar and Tamerlan Tsarnaev.
The backpack contained fireworks emptied of their explosive powder, a USB drive and a container of Vaseline. The prosecution argued that the gunpowder found in the fireworks could be used to make a bomb.
Tazhayakov was not found guilty of removing a laptop from the room that same day.
Tazhayakov’s roommate, Dias Kadyrbayev, is accused of playing a more active role in removing objects from Tsarnaev’s room and will face trial for obstruction of justice and conspiracy on Sept. 8. Kadyrbayey allegedly disposed of Tsarnaev’s backpack, which was later found in a New Bedford landfill. The FBI recovered the laptop in Tazhayakov and Kadyrbayey’s off-campus apartment.
A third friend, Robel Phillipos, faces charges of lying to investigators about where he was the night of April 18. His trial is set for Sept. 29.
Matthew Myers, one of Tazhayakov’s three defense attorneys, said the defense team intends to appealthe format of the jury slip, which he said could have made jurors believe they were giving Tazhayakov a break when they found him guilty involving only the backpack, but not the laptop. The jury decided that Tazhayakov and Kadyrbayev may have taken the laptop to resell it a later time and not to protect Tsarnaev.
Tazhayakov’s defense team argued that he was ignorant of Kadyrbayey’s actions, portraying Tazhayakov as well-mannered and oblivious. Prosecutors argued that while Kadyrbayey took the lead in removing the objects, the defendant was fully aware of his role in the operation.
“We are tremendously gratified with the jury’s decision,” said U.S. Attorney Carmen Ortiz to reporters outside the courthouse. “I want to thank the jury for their careful attention and their service in this matter. As you heard Judge Woodlock in the courtroom say, they took their jobs very seriously.”
Ortiz also thanked the investigators and prosecutors, Assistant U.S. Attorneys Stephanie Siegmann and John Capin, members of Ortiz’s Anti-Terrorism and National Security Unit, as well as the FBI.
Myers called the verdict surprising.
“It’s a brutal day for all of us,” Myers said to reporters. “[It’s] difficult to try a case in this culture. We knew we were up against it. We’ll have to respect the verdict, but we’ll push on with some motions that we have to make before sentencing, and then, of course, we’ll push for the most lenient sentence allowable under the law.”
Tazhayakov is scheduled to be sentenced on Oct. 16.