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Tsarnaev friend to plead guilty in obstruction case

In a courtroom sketch, Dias Kadyrbayev (center) testified in federal court.

AP/File

In a courtroom sketch, Dias Kadyrbayev (center) testified in federal court.

A young man from Kazakhstan who was a close friend of surviving Boston Marathon bombing suspect Dzhokhar Tsarnaev is expected to plead guilty to obstruction of justice charges on Thursday, about a month after his roommate was convicted of similar charges.

The attorney for Dias Kadyrbayev, a former University of Massachusetts Dartmouth student, said Wednesday his client will plead guilty but did not say whether the plea is part of a sentence-reducing deal with prosecutors or whether Kadyrbayev will plead without having such an agreement, with hope that the judge will show leniency.

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He had previously pleaded not guilty to accusations that he had removed evidence from Tsarnaev’s dorm room, and he was scheduled to go to trial Sept. 8.

In a telephone interview, Robert Stahl, who practices law out of Westfield, N.J., said the details of the guilty plea will be made clear Thursday afternoon in the Boston courtroom of US District Court Judge Douglas Woodlock. As recently as Tuesday, there had been a flurry of pretrial activity, such as the filing of proposed jury instructions.

The US attorney’s office did not return phone calls Wednesday seeking comment on Kadyrbayev’s expected guilty plea.

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Kadyrbayev’s change of plea is not surprising to some veteran defense attorneys who followed the trial of his friend and off-campus roommate, 20-year-old Azamat Tazhayakov, also from Kazakhstan. Last month, Tazhayakov was convicted of conspiracy to obstruct justice and obstruction of justice despite being widely portrayed by FBI agents as the less culpable of the two men, the follower, not the leader. Tazhayakov faces a maximum of 25 years in prison at sentencing on Oct. 16.

Martin Weinberg, a veteran criminal defense attorney in Boston, said Kadyrbayev and his attorney must have been crushed to see Tazhayakov convicted and likely believed their only option was to plead guilty and hope the judge reduces Kadyrbayev’s sentence in return for the admission and sparing the government from a full-blown trial.

“There were grave risks in continuing down the path of a trial,” Weinberg said.

Federal prosecutors recommend sentences based on a number of factors, including at least one working in favor of the two men, a lack of a previous criminal record. In Kadyrbayev’s case, his guilty plea will likely count as another factor toward reducing his sentence.

“Acceptance of responsibility gives you some benefits in the calculation of sentences,” said Kathy Weinman, a seasoned criminal defense attorney and former president of the Boston Bar Association.

Prosecutors said the two Kazakhstan men, along with a third student, entered Tsarnaev’s dorm room on April 18, 2013, hours after the FBI released photos of the two bombing suspects. Before entering the room, Kadyrbayev exchanged text messages with Tsarnaev, including one in which Tsarnaev wrote, “If yu want yu can go to my room and take what’s there.”

Subsequently, prosecutors said, Kadyrbayev and Tazhayakov allegedly removed a number of items, including Tsarnaev’s backpack, containing fireworks and a laptop, while suspecting their friend was a fugitive. Kadyrbayev is accused of later discarding the backpack in a Dumpster behind their New Bedford apartment, while the laptop was left on a table. Both items were recovered by federal investigators.

Robel Phillipos, who grew up with Tsarnaev in Cambridge, is accused of being with Kadyrbayev and Tazhayakov that night but is only charged with lying to investigators about his whereabouts and not with the removal of any evidence. His trial is scheduled for Sept. 29th.

The three young men had frequently socialized with Tsarnaev, who is accused with his older brother, Tamerlan, of planting two bombs that exploded near the Marathon finish line on April 15, 2013, killing three and injuring more than 260. Tamerlan died in a violent confrontation with police in Watertown in the early morning hours of April 19, just a few days after the bombing. Tsarnaev fled the scene, and was later found in a docked boat in the backyard of a Watertown home.

His trial is scheduled for November.

Milton J. Valencia and John R. Ellement of the Globe staff contributed to this report. Patricia Wen can be reached at wen@globe.com.
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