An engineering student from the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth testified Tuesday that one thing stood out for him in the days after the Boston Marathon bombing, and it had nothing to do with his roommate, Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, who betrayed no signs of being a guilt-plagued mass killer.
Andrew Dwinells said he found it strange when one of Tsarnaev’s friends approached him on the night of April 18 — hours after the FBI released photos of the bombing suspects — and asked for access to the room that Dwinells shared with Tsarnaev. This friend explained that Tsarnaev was leaving the country and needed some items retrieved.
After Dwinells let him in, this friend began rummaging through Tsarnaev’s things, and appeared to take a bag of marijuana from a desk drawer, Dwinells said, though he did not remember whether anything else was taken. Soon, two other UMass Dartmouth friends of Tsarnaev entered and briefly watched Tsarnaev’s television.
Later, when the trio left, Dwinells decided he should let Tsarnaev know about the odd visit.
“This was abnormal,” Dwinells said Tuesday in federal court in Boston.
The roommate’s testimony — his first public comments since learning that his roommate is the surviving Marathon bombing suspect — came Tuesday in the obstruction-of-justice trial of Azamat Tazhayakov, one of the three friends who entered the dorm room that day.
All three friends are charged with interfering with a terrorism investigation and are being tried separately. Tazhayakov and Dias Kadyrbayev, both 20 and natives of the central Asian nation of Kazakhstan, face a maximum 20 years in prison for their alleged role in hampering the investigation by removing Tsarnaev’s backpack, which contained manipulated fireworks, and Tsarnaev’s laptop from the dorm room that day.
Robel Phillipos, 20, of Cambridge, faces charges of lying to investigators about his whereabouts that night and could face an eight-year sentence.
Dwinells, a Marlborough native whose testimony is expected to resume Wednesday, told jurors that he and Tsarnaev were randomly chosen to share a small room at the Pine Dale dormitory at the start of their sophomore year in the fall of 2012. He said they “didn’t talk much” and their social groups did not overlap. For instance, Dwinells said, he did not know the names of the friends who entered the room on April 18, 2013, but remembered their faces as people who frequently socialized with Tsarnaev.
In the days after the bombing, Dwinells noticed that Tsarnaev slept a bit longer than usual, but he otherwise went about his day-to-day routine as usual. He said he never noticed Tsarnaev with fireworks.
Dwinells was not alone in observing Tsarnaev to be strikingly calm after the bombing. According to FBI agent Sara Wood, who also testified Tuesday, Tazhayakov spent extensive time with Tsarnaev in the days after the bombing, mostly playing video games, and told her Tsarnaev behaved normally.
Defense lawyers have maintained that Tazhayakov did not obstruct justice because he had no role in removing items from Tsarnaev’s dorm room and did not suspect Tsarnaev of any wrongdoing, even after the FBI released photos of the bombing suspects. They say that Kadyrbayev alone removed the items from Tsarnaev’s dorm room, and maintain that Kadyrbayev, on his own, also tossed the backpack containing fireworks into a dumpster, and only told Tazhayakov after the fact.
However, Wood, the FBI agent, testified that the defense’s version of events is not what Tazhayakov recounted to her on April 19, during a four-hour interrogation at the State Police barracks near campus.
She said that Tazhayakov told her that after the FBI photos were released on April 18, he received a text message from Kadyrbayev telling him that Tsarnaev’s photo was “on the news.” Prosecutors have said this message prompted the joint plan to remove incriminating objects from Tsarnaev’s room to protect him.
Wood also said that Tazhayakov told her on April 19 that, after the death of Tamerlan Tsarnaev — Dzhokhar’s brother, who was the other bombing suspect — was publicized, he saw Kadyrbayev pace the New Bedford apartment the two shared, asking what he should do with the backpack. According to Wood, when Kadyrbayev decided to throw it away, Tazhayakov said, “I agree.”
Six government witnesses have taken the stand in the trial, which is expected to last about two weeks. One of Tazhayakov’s lawyers said no decision has been made about whether he will take the stand.
Tsarnaev’s trial is scheduled to begin in November. He and his brother allegedly plotted the Marathon bombing, which killed three and injured more than 260. They also allegedly killed MIT police Officer Sean Collier in Cambridge. Tsarnaev could face the death penalty.