Two college friends of accused Boston Marathon bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev were indicted Thursday on federal obstruction of justice charges, while lawyers for a third friend said he is negotiating a possible deal in his case.
Dias Kadyrbayev and Azamat Tazhayakov, both 19-year-old former students from Kazakhstan, were indicted by a federal grand jury, which said they took evidence from Tsarnaev’s dorm room at the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth, tossed it in the trash, and watched a rubbish truck take it away after authorities had publicly identified Tsarnaev as a suspect. They were first charged in May in US District Court, but the indictment increased their possible sentence from five to 25 years in prison.
A third friend, Robel Phillipos of Cambridge, was also charged in May with lying to investigators, but he was not indicted Thursday. His lawyers filed a motion yesterday in US District Court in Boston saying Phillipos is “engaged in negotiations aimed at possible resolution of this matter,” though they did not elaborate.
The flurry of legal activity is the latest development in a wide-ranging investigation into the Marathon bombings that has taken a number of bizarre turns and expanded to foreign countries and the state of Florida, where a prosecutor said Thursday that he is conducting an independent review of the fatal shooting of a friend of Tsarnaev’s brother by a Boston FBI agent in May.
Tsarnaev, 20, and his brother, Tamerlan, allegedly set off two bombs near the finish line of the Boston Marathon April 15, killing three people and injuring more than 260 others. Tamerlan Tsarnaev, 26, was shot and killed by police later that week, and Dzhokhar Tsarnaev was arrested following a manhunt that shut down Greater Boston. The two brothers are also accused of killing an MIT police officer.
Dzhokhar Tsarnaev is being held without bail and is facing multiple federal charges, including several that could bring the death penalty.
Kadyrbayev and Tazhayakov have not been accused of having anything to do with the bombings, only with destroying evidence after it.
Their lawyers said Thursday that the teenagers had no idea that Tsarnaev was involved in the attack and said they would fight the new charges in court.
“It’s disappointing that the government would charge Dias and Azamat, given that they cooperated fully,” Robert G. Stahl, Kadyrbayev’s lawyer, said in a phone interview. “Obviously in this situation and the political and social atmosphere, no one is going to give them any breaks.”
Tazhayakov’s lawyer, Arkady Bukh, called his client a “scared, distressed 19-year-old boy” and said the charges should have been dismissed.
“I personally feel this is a witch hunt,” Bukh said from his New York office. “This is a case that should go to trial, and the client should have an opportunity to explain his behavior to a jury. If the government doesn’t feel like dismissing the case, we will go to trial.”
US Attorney Carmen Ortiz declined to comment Thursday through a spokeswoman.
Kadyrbayev and Tazhayakov are scheduled to be arraigned at 2 p.m. Tuesday in US District Court in Boston, and they are being held without bail at the Essex County Correctional Facility in Middleton. They were arrested April 20 on immigration violations, then charged May 1 with conspiracy to obstruct justice, which carries a penalty of up to five years.
Thursday’s indictment accused them of conspiracy and added a new charge of obstruction of justice, which carries a penalty of up to 20 years in prison. Each charge also carries up to three years of supervised release and a $250,000 fine. Both also face possible deportation to Kazakhstan, an oil-
producing nation in Central Asia.
Phillipos, a native US citizen and the son of a single mother from Ethiopia, has been released on bond.
The indictment said that Kadyrbayev, Tazhayakov, and Phillipos went to Tsarnaev’s dorm room around 10 p.m. April 18, about five hours after the FBI had posted video and photos of the two alleged bombers and asked the public for help identifying them.
Also that night, Kadyrbayev allegedly showed Tazhayakov a text message from Tsarnaev that said he could “go to my room and take what’s there.” Kadyrbayev allegedly searched Tsarnaev’s things and found a laptop and a backpack containing fireworks, some opened to reveal explosive powder, and a jar of Vaseline.
“Kadyrbayev told Tazhayakov that he [Kadyrbayev] believed Dzokhar Tsarnaev had used the Vaseline ‘to make bombs,’ or words to that effect,” the indictment said.
The men allegedly took the items to their off-campus apartment in New Bedford and discussed what to do with them. Sometime in the next several hours, the indictment said, Kadyrbayev kept the laptop, put the fireworks, backpack, and other items in a black garbage bag and tossed them into a trash bin outside. The men told authorities they watched the news coverage that night.
Around 6:50 a.m. April 19, news reports identified the Tsarnaev brothers as the bombing suspects, after Tamerlan was killed but before Dzokhar was caught hiding on a boat in a yard in Watertown.
After the brothers were identified, Tazhayakov and Kadyrbayev watched a garbage truck take the items away.
Days later, more than 30 federal agents combed the landfill for two days and recovered the items, plus a thumb drive and a homework sheet from UMass.
Lawyers for Kadyrbayev and Tazhayakov have pointed out that their clients cooperated with investigators without a lawyer or a consular official. They have said that Kadyrbayev handed over Tsarnaev’s laptop as well, though they would not say why the friends went to the dorm room that night.
The lawyers said Kadyrbayev and Tazhayakov come from affluent families and that they loved studying in the United States and had no motive to harm anyone.
“Dzhokhar and Tamerlan are what they are; Dias and Azamat know nothing about that,” Stahl said.
Bukh suggested that Tazhayakov accidentally put his “foot in the middle of the mess Tsarnaev created.”
“I think my client was in the wrong time in the wrong place, and there’s a certain element of stupidity or mistake or misjudgment. But again, not criminal misjudgment.”