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Case linked to Marathon bombings goes to jury

Azamat Tazhayakov is facing obstruction of justice charges.

AP/File

Azamat Tazhayakov is facing obstruction of justice charges.

Jurors in the first trial linked to the 2013 Boston Marathon bombings spent about three hours deliberating Wednesday in the case of Azamat Tazhayakov, who faces charges that he hindered the investigation into his college friend, bombing suspect Dzhokhar Tsarnaev.

US District Court Judge Douglas P. Woodlock sent the panel home around 5 p.m.

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Before deliberations, the prosecution and defense made their final arguments to the jury.

Defense lawyers implored jurors to remember the often-clueless minds of teenagers when judging whether the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth student meant to obstruct justice.

Attorney Matthew Myers said Tazhayakov was in the dark about why his off-campus roommate entered Tsarnaev’s dorm room on the night of April 18, 2013. Myers said that while Dias Kadyrbayev rummaged through Tsarnaev’s things, including a drawer where Tsarnaev kept marijuana, Tazhayakov, then 19, watched television. The only item the defendant took, he said, was some headphones that he said belonged to him.

“College kids think differently,” said Myers.

But federal prosecutor John Capin said Tazhayakov was far from naïve and was part of a calculated plan to protect Tsarnaev from the FBI. Capin said the defendant and Kadyrbayev entered Tsarnaev’s dorm room hours after the FBI published photos of the two bombing suspects and took Tsarnaev’s backpack containing fireworks, and his laptop, among other things.

“He did it to protect his friend Dzhokhar Tsarnaev,” Capin said.

Tazhayakov faces charges of obstruction of justice and conspiracy to obstruct justice. The defendant, now 20 and a native of the central Asian nation of Kazakhstan, faces up to five years in prison if found guilty of conspiracy, and a maximum 20-year prison term if convicted of obstruction of justice.

The jury is scheduled to return Thursday.

Tazhayakov is the first of three friends of Tsarnaev to go to trial on charges of interfering with the investigation. The trial of Kadyrbayev, who faces the same charges, is scheduled for early September, and another friend, Robel Phillipos, who is accused of lying to investigators, is scheduled to stand trial in late September.

The jurors were told by US District Court Judge Douglas Woodlock that they must indicate on their jury slip if they find Tazhayakov guilty or not guilty on two charges: “conspiring to alter, destruct, conceal or cover up tangible objects” alleged to be in Tsarnaev’s room, or actually taking part, or aiding, in the alteration, destruction or concealment of such objects.

The judge said jurors must debate these questions related to two specific objects: Tsarnaev’s laptop, and his backpack containing fireworks, a jar of Vaseline, and a thumb drive.

The trial included six days of testimony from about 15 witnesses, more than half of whom are FBI agents. They offered some of the first detailed accounts of law enforcement’s actions in the hours after the photos of the two bombing suspects were released. Agents testified, for instance, that they descended on the New Bedford apartment rented by Tazhayakov and Kadyrbayev because they found that Tsarnaev had made cellphone calls from there.

Investigators also learned that the roommates shared a “friends and family” cellphone plan with Tsarnaev, and the FBI considered the possibility that Tsarnaev was hiding in the apartment. A trail of electronic communications between the friends and Tsarnaev — with time stamps and Russian words later translated by investigators — ultimately provided much of the evidence in the obstruction-of-justice case.

The trial also featured videos, shown for the first time, showing Tsarnaev smiling at a UMass-Dartmouth gym, along with Tazhayakov, within a day of the bombing.

Prosecutors have never alleged, however, that Tazhayakov or Kadyrbayev knew about the bombing plan ahead of time.

Tsarnaev is being held in a medical prison facility in Fort Devens. He and his older brother, Tamerlan, are accused of detonating two homemade bombs at the Boston Marathon finish line on April 15, 2013, killing three and injuring more than 260.

The brothers are also accused of killing MIT police Officer Sean Collier on April 18, 2013. Tamerlan died around 1:30 a.m. on April 19th in a shoot-out with police, and Tsarnaev was apprehended that evening in a docked boat behind a Watertown home.

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

To see an interactive timeline tracking three pivotal days in the case, visit BostonGlobe.com.

To see an interactive timeline tracking three pivotal days in the case, visit BostonGlobe.com. Patricia Wen can be reached at wen@globe.com.
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