Azamat Tazhayakov’s father sat stoically in Courtroom 1 in the federal courthouse. He put on his headset, to learn his son’s fate in a language he could understand.
Ismagoulov Amir Tazhayakhovich is a successful man, an oil executive in his native Kazakhstan. He sent his son to elite schools, and when Azamat turned 18 he sent him to the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth, where Azamat became friends with a kid named Dzhokhar Tsarnaev.
Azamat was, like a lot of Kazakh kids, obsessed with US pop culture and wanted to experience America, up close and personal. When Azamat was a student in London, he went to Princess Diana’s memorial and laid a wreath. When he got to New York, one of the first things he did was to take the boat out to the Statue of Liberty.
Ismagoulov insisted his son was a good boy, innocent of tampering with evidence belonging to his friend, the accused Boston Marathon bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, and he was convinced an American jury would acquit him.
But as that jury filed in Monday afternoon, Ismagoulov betrayed anything but confidence. His wife, Tuyrsynai, showed even less. She grabbed their 2-year-old daughter, Almira, put her on her lap, then covered Almira with a brightly covered scarf, as if to shield her from what was about to happen. Then she rocked Almira, the same way she used to rock Azamat.
In that moment before the verdict was read, in that brief slice of silence, the tinny voice of Almira leaked from beneath the scarf: She was singing.
Azamat’s father has rudimentary English, and he sank when he heard the word guilty. He knew what it meant. It meant his son is looking at 25 years in a federal penitentiary, and all the oil money in the world can’t change that.
Azamat’s mother speaks no English, and her reaction was delayed, as she listened to the translation. The translator’s words spilled from her headset and she bent forward, as if she had been punched. She dropped the scarf, and Almira stared up, uncomprehending.
Tuyrsynai rocked back and forth, keening. Almira climbed down and grabbed the headset her mother had dropped. She put the headset on, as if it would help her understand what was making her mother cry. No longer a cloak, the scarf became a handkerchief, and Tuyrsynai daubed her eyes.
“Mama,” Almira said, looking up, smiling. Her innocence stood in stark, striking contrast to what the jury had just decided her brother had done.
Jurors decided that Azamat was part of the conspiracy to move Tsarnaev’s backpack from his dorm room at UMass Dartmouth after the bombings, even though it was another friend, Dias Kadyrbayev, who actually moved the backpack.
Prosecutors painted Azamat as a willing participant in an attempt to obstruct justice, an offense made even more egregious because he and Kadyrbayev had seen the scenes of carnage left on Boylston Street in the wake of the bombings.
Azamat’s lawyers scoffed at the suggestion he was sympathetic to what Tsarnaev is accused of doing. Instead they described a typical, clueless teenager, a mama’s boy who liked to play soccer and smoke joints, a nonpracticing Muslim who disliked Dzhokhar’s brother Tamerlan, the mastermind of the bombings who tried to get Azamat to read extremist Islamic literature.
Long after the verdict, Matthew Myers, one of Azamat’s lawyers, stood outside the courthouse, shaking his head, in utter disbelief that anybody other than an FBI agent or a federal prosecutor would think his client is anything more than just a stupid college kid.
Myers said he knew what kind of pressure the jury was under, just a year after the Marathon bombings. He knows the pressure that Judge Douglas Woodlock faces in sentencing Azamat in October. He knows what it’s like after people die as they died in Boston on Patriots Day in 2013.
“I’m from New York,” Matt Myers said. “I know.”