Federal prosecutors have agreed to ask for no more than a seven-year prison term for a close friend of Boston Marathon bombing suspect Dzhokhar Tsarnaev after the friend pleaded guilty to obstruction of justice Thursday, about two weeks before he was scheduled to go to trial.
Dias Kadyrbayev, one of four former classmates of Tsarnaev to face federal charges related to the bombing case, appeared calm as he listened to a prosecutor read a 17-point chronological statement about how Kadyrbayev removed a backpack containing manipulated fireworks and a laptop from Tsarnaev’s dormitory room on April 18, 2013, a few days after the bombing.
“Is that all true?” US District Judge Douglas Woodlock asked Kadyrbayev, a native of Kazakhstan, after the statement was read.
“Yes,” replied Kadyrbayev, with his father seated several rows behind him in court.
The 20-year-old former University of Massachusetts Dartmouth student then formally pleaded guilty to obstruction of justice and conspiracy to obstruct justice, which would expose him to a maximum 25-year prison term if not for the plea deal. The judge said he wants to review the Probation Department’s presentencing report before accepting the deal, which would limit the judge’s ability to go beyond a seven-year prison term.
The judge said he reserves the right to reject the deal’s terms. If he does so, Kadyrbayev is free to withdraw his guilty plea. The judge set sentencing for Nov. 18.
Kadyrbayev was taken away in handcuffs and returned to the Essex County jail in Middleton, where he has spent most of the past 16 months.
Kadyrbayev’s attorney, Robert Stahl of Westfield, N.J., later released a written statement saying that his client was “a young man, just 19 years old at the time, who made a terrible error in judgment for which he has paid dearly.”
Outside the courthouse, Stahl emphasized that Kadyrbayev was totally unaware that Tsarnaev was planning to bomb the Boston Marathon.
“He hopes that by accepting responsibility, people here in Boston and across the world will eventually understand that he did not [obstruct justice] out of malice or in any way condone what the Tsarnaevs have allegedly done,” Stahl said.
Kadyrbayev’s plea comes as federal prosecutors are busy preparing cases against two other friends of Tsarnaev and Tsarnaev himself. The 21-year-old former UMass Dartmouth student is accused, along 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. On April 18, after the FBI released photos of the two suspected bombers, the brothers went on the run and allegedly killed MIT police Officer Sean Collier in what authorities say was an unsuccessful effort to get his service weapon.
Hours later, on April 19, Tamerlan Tsarnaev died in a violent confrontation with police in Watertown. Dzhokhar Tsarnaev fled and was found later that day in a boat stored in the backyard of a Watertown home.
It was during the manhunt for the suspects that three of Tsarnaev’s closest friends from UMass Dartmouth — Kadyrbayev, Azamat Tazhayakov, and Robel Phillipos — allegedly began interfering with the federal investigation.
Tazhayakov, another native of Kazakhstan who lived in an off-campus New Bedford apartment with Kadyrbayev, was found guilty by a jury last month of being a coconspirator with Kadyrbayev in the removal of evidence from Tsarnaev’s dorm room, including throwing the backpack in a dumpster. He is scheduled to be sentenced in October.
Phillipos, 20, is charged with lying to investigators about being with the two Kazakhstan students on the night they entered Tsarnaev’s dorm room. His attorney, Susan Church of Cambridge, said she cannot comment on any potential plea negotiations in his case.
She said, however, that the charge that her client faces “is very different.” The trial of Phillipos, who has been free on bail since May 2013, is scheduled for late September.
Meanwhile, a fourth close friend of Tsarnaev, Stephen Silva, 21, who attended Cambridge Rindge and Latin with Tsarnaev and worked as a part-time Harvard lifeguard with him, was arrested last month on federal drug and gun charges.
Silva’s lawyer said he was told by investigators that the gun charge relates to an allegation that Silva provided a defaced pistol to Tsarnaev months before the Marathon, and that pistol was used in the killing of Collier. That gun was later recovered at the scene of the Watertown shootout.
Silva’s lawyer, Jonathan Shapiro, has said that his client had nothing to do with the bombing or the violence that erupted during the manhunt. Silva is being held without bail.