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Tsarnaev friend’s FBI interviews were voluntary, judge rules

Azamat Tazhayakov is one of three college friends of Tsarnaev accused of hindering the probe into the bombing.

Jane Flavell Collins/AP/File

Azamat Tazhayakov is one of three college friends of Tsarnaev accused of hindering the probe into the bombing.

A federal judge rejected claims Tuesday that Azamat Tazhayakov was forced to speak to authorities against his will when they asked him last year about his college friend, Boston Marathon bombing suspect Dzhokhar Tsarnaev.

Tazhayakov is charged with obstruction of justice for allegedly working with two other friends to impede the investigation into the April 15, 2013, bombings, which killed three people and injured more than 260 others.

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Authorities said Tazhayakov helped remove a backpack containing fireworks, a laptop, and several other items from Tsarnaev’s University of Massachusetts Dartmouth dorm room. Investigators later found the bag in a New Bedford landfill.

U.S. District Court

Tazhayakov’s apartment

Officers who detained Tazhayakov at his apartment were “in SWAT gear pointing lasers at him,” said defense lawyer Diane Ferrone. They held him for questioning at a local barracks for hours without a shirt, she said.

“He was never in a position where he was free to leave, and he was never speaking to the agents voluntarily,” Ferrone argued.

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But US District Judge Douglas P. Woodlock rejected the defense team’s attempt to have Tazhayakov’s statements thrown out. The judge said, “If he’d asked,” Tazhayakov “was free to leave.”

“Was the nature of the investigation more rugged than it needed to have been? That’s not a question that I think I may properly answer,” Woodlock said from the bench.

RELATED: Testimony concludes in trial of Tsarnaev college friend

The decision came during a brief hearing in US District Court in Boston to resolve final issues before closing arguments, which are scheduled for Wednesday. Attorneys also jostled over the wording of specific instructions and questions that will be put before the jury.

On Monday, prosecutors showed jurors video footage of Tazhayakov at the university gym with Tsarnaev the day after the bombings. The two students appear nonchalant, and defense attorneys said the surveillance images are evidence that their client did not know Tsarnaev was a suspect involved in the bombings.

Outside the courtroom after the hearing, Tazhayakov’s lawyers, who rested their case Monday without calling any witnesses, said they were “confidently optimistic” as the trial nears its end.

About 15 witnesses, many of them FBI agents, have testified during the trial. Tazhayakov faces up to 20 years in prison if convicted.

Tsarnaev, who allegedly planned the bombings with his brother, Tamerlan, is scheduled to go to trial in November.

BELOW: Three short videos of Dzhokhar Tsarnaev entering and exiting a UMass-Dartmouth gym only a day after the Boston Marathon bombings. They were played to jurors Monday in the obstruction-of-justice trial of Azamat Tazhayakov, who is with Tsarnaev that night in the gym. The video is taken around 9 p.m. on April 16th.

Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, Azamat Tazhayakov at UMass Dartmouth day after bombings

Tazhayakov and Kadyrbayev, charged with obstruction of justice, face up to 20 years in prison if convicted. Phillipos, 20, of Cambridge, faces charges of lying to investigators about his whereabouts that night and could face an eight-year sentence if found guilty.

Tsarnaev is scheduled to go to trial in November, and faces the death penalty, if convicted. He and his older brother, Tamerlan, also allegedly killed an MIT police officer. Tamerlan was killed in a shootout with police in the early morning hours of April 19.

John R. Ellement of the Globe staff contributed to this report. Zachary T. Sampson can be reached at Follow him on Twitter @ZackSampson.
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