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Friend of accused Boston bomber found guilty of obstructing justice

Boston Marathon bombing suspect Dzhokhar Tsarnaev (right) poses with Azamat Tazhayakov (left) and Diaz Kadyrbayev in an undated photo taken in New York. Tazhayakov was found guilty of obstructing justice Monday, July 21, 2014.
By Scott Malone and Daniel Lovering, Reuters

BOSTON — A jury on Monday found a friend of the accused Boston Marathon bomber guilty of obstructing the investigation into the deadly blasts by removing a backpack containing fireworks shells from the suspect’s dorm room.

The friend, Kazakh exchange student Azamat Tazhayakov, was found guilty of conspiracy to obstruct justice and obstruction of justice for going to suspected bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev’s room three days after the April 15, 2013, attack and removing a backpack containing empty fireworks shells.

The jury found Tazhayakov not guilty of similar charges involving a laptop computer.

Juror Daniel Antonino told reporters outside the courthouse they had concluded that the men had taken the laptop “because it was valuable, plain and simple,” and not to influence the investigation.

Tazhayakov’s mother broke down in tears when the verdict was read and left without speaking to reporters. The defendant, dressed in a dark suit and tie, sat quietly between his lawyers.

Prosecutors charged that Tazhayakov, fellow Kazakh exchange student Dias Kadyrbayev and Robel Phillipos of Cambridge, Massachusetts, removed evidence from Tsarnaev’s room at the University of Massachusetts at Dartmouth after realizing that their friend was a bombing suspect.

Tazhayakov could face up to 20 years in prison on the obstruction of justice count and up to five years on the conspiracy count. He will be sentenced on Oct. 16, U.S. District Judge Douglas Woodlock said.

Defense attorneys said they planned to appeal the verdict, which they said reflected high emotions in a city still reeling from the attack that killed three people and injured more than 260 others.

“Trying a case in the middle of a bombed city, it’s very difficult to get a juror who’s objective,” said attorney Matthew Myers. “We understand what this town has been through.”

Kadyrbayev is awaiting trial on the same charges later this year, while Phillipos faces the lesser charge of lying to investigators.

During six days of testimony at U.S. District Court in Boston, jurors heard FBI agents testify that Tazhayakov told them he had been present when the items were removed and later watched as a garbage truck hauled away the backpack.

Tazhayakov’s attorneys had said their client never touched the backpack or laptop, contending that Kadyrbayev did so and later dropped the backpack into a trash bin.

None of the three men was charged with playing any role in the bombing, which was the largest mass-casualty attack on U.S. soil since Sept. 11, 2001.

One former federal prosecutor said Monday’s verdict could raise the stakes for Kadyrbayev’s attorneys.

“It doesn’t bode well for the next defendant,” said Walter Prince, of the law firm Prince Lobel Tye, noting that Tazhayakov’s decision not to testify in his own defense during the trial may prompt Kadyrbayev’s lawyers to put him on the stand.

“Otherwise the jury is left with just the FBI’s version of what occurred,” Prince said.

Kadyrbayev has already taken the stand in a pretrial hearing where his lawyers sought to have statements he made to the FBI after being ordered out of his New Bedford, Massachusetts, home by heavily armed agents thrown out.

They had argued that those statements were involuntary. Woodlock declined to rule on Kadyrbayev’s request but rejected a similar pitch from Tazhayakov’s lawyers.

Tsarnaev is awaiting trial on charges that carry the death penalty.

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