A former University of Massachusetts Dartmouth student apparently disliked the older brother of his friend Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, avoiding the intensely devout man and declining to read a book on Islam the brother had given him, according to testimony in the student’s obstruction of justice trial.
Yet Azamat Tazhayakov, 20, could see signs that Tsarnaev’s relationship with his brother, Tamerlan, was not distant. The brothers went to a shooting range together at least once.
Also, a day or two after the Boston Marathon bombing, Tsarnaev visited Tazhayakov’s off-campus New Bedford apartment, played video games with him, then retreated into a bathroom for a private Skype conversation with his brother.
FBI agent Timothy Quinn testified that Tazhaykov found this clandestine conversation odd, because Tsarnaev had never pulled away like that to talk so secretively to his brother.
That was part of testimony elicited by prosecutors to show Tazhayakov’s mindset when he and his roommate, Dias Kadyrbayev, are alleged to have taken part in a plan to remove a backpack, containing fireworks, and a laptop from Tsarnaev’s dorm room on April 18, 2013.
This removal allegedly took place just hours after the FBI publicized photos of the two bombing suspects. Prosecutors allege that the two roommates realized that the FBI images were the Tsarnaev brothers, especially after knowing that one or both of them showed an interest in bombmaking, weapons, and radical Islam.
Tazhayakov and Kadyrbayev, both natives of the central Asian nation of Kazakhstan, are charged with obstruction of justice and face a maximum of 20 years in prison if convicted. They also face a less serious charge of conspiracy to obstruct justice, which comes with a five-year maximum prison term.
A third college friend, Robel Phillipos, faces a maximum of eight years in prison on charges of lying to investigators about his whereabouts that night. He was also in the dorm room when the items were removed, but has not been charged with knowing about the plan.
Each is being tried separately, and Tazhayakov’s trial, the first to take place, completed its first full week of testimony Friday. The government is expected to finish its case by Monday, and US District Court Judge Douglas Woodlock told jurors that deliberations are likely to start on Wednesday.
Tazhayakov, dressed in a navy suit every day, has appeared calm and attentive throughout the trial. His parents, from Kazakhstan, have been present in the courtroom every day.
Defense lawyers have contended that Tazhayakov never obstructed justice and cooperated fully with agents from the start, agreeing to speak without a lawyer present. They say that Kadyrbayev alone took and disposed of the items from Tsarnaev’s dorm room and that Tazhayakov, while following news about the manhunt, was unaware of a coverup plan initiated by his roommate.
The defense has also pointed out that more fireworks were recovered in Tsarnaev’s dorm room, and that the defendants, if committed to covering up Tsarnaev’s crimes, would have taken all fireworks. Defense lawyers say the trio mostly wanted a bag of Tsarnaev’s marijuana, which they also took.
Ten FBI agents have testified, more than half of all the witnesses so far, and their testimony has reinforced the view that Kadyrbayev took the lead in physically removing Tsarnaev’s backpack and laptop, as well as tossing out the backpack, which was later recovered in a landfill by authorities.
But while Tazhayakov comes off as a secondary figure in the alleged coverup, FBI agents say he admitted during interrogations on April 19, 2013, and the following day that he condoned Kadyrbayev’s actions.
For instance, FBI agent Farbod Azad said that Tazhayakov used words like they when referring to the removal of the items. Agents have also testified that Kadyrbayev shared information with Tazhakayov while in the dorm room, including the discovery of a jar of Vaseline that Kadyrbayev whispered was related to bombmaking.
Prosecutors have not explained how Vaseline is used in making bombs, but the substance is often used as a binder that enables explosive powders to attain a globlike consistency that is easier to handle, said University of Rhode Island chemistry professor Jimmie Oxley, who studies explosives.
Tsarnaev is charged with detonating two homemade bombs at the finish line, killing three and injuring 260. He is also accused of killing MIT police officer Sean Collier while on the run. Tamerlan died in a shootout with police, while Tsarnaev was captured April 19 hiding in a docked boat behind a Watertown home.
His trial is scheduled for November, and he faces a possible death penalty if convicted.