Testimony ended Monday in the trial of a former University of Massachusetts student and friend of Boston Marathon bombing suspect Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, and jurors are expected to begin deliberating Wednesday on whether Azamat Tazhayakov took part in a criminal scheme to cover up evidence after the bombing, or whether he just tagged along while another friend privately plotted to obstruct justice.
Prosecutors rested their case Monday against Tazhayakov, 20, after presenting about 15 witnesses, more than half of whom were FBI agents. Their testimony was the first time so many federal agents have spoken publicly — and in detail — about the fast-moving events that unfolded the night of April 18, 2013, hours after the FBI publicized photos of two unnamed bombing suspects.
Defense lawyers for Tazhayakov chose not to present any witnesses, and the legal team rested its case as soon as the government’s case ended.
Lawyers will review jury instructions Tuesday, and jurors will have the day off.
US District Judge Douglas Woodlock told jurors they should report back to court Wednesday for closing arguments and deliberations.
Woodlock reminded jurors not to be influenced by the fact that Tazhayakov, a student from the central Asian nation of Kazakhstan, did not take the stand to testify in his own defense. Instead, the judge said, they should focus on whether the government met its burden over six days of testimony.
Tazhayakov is one of three college friends of Tsarnaev who are accused of hindering the probe into the bombing.
According to testimony, Tazhayakov’s off-campus roommate, Dias Kadyrbayev, also from Kazakhstan, took the lead in gaining access to Tsarnaev’s dorm room at UMass Dartmouth hours after the FBI released photos of the bombing suspects, and took Tsarnaev’s backpack, containing manipulated fireworks, and a laptop, among other items, allegedly in response to a text from Tsarnaev saying, “yu can go to my room and take what’s there.”
Tazhayakov and another friend, Robel Phillipos, later joined Kadyrbayev in the dorm room, according to testimony. Hours later, Kadyrbayev allegedly discarded the backpack in a dumpster behind the New Bedford apartment he shared with Tazhayakov.
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.
Defense attorneys say that Tazhayakov had nothing to do with the removal and disposal of the backpack, and did not suspect that his close friend, Tsarnaev, could be behind the horrific bombing.
Prosecutors, however, say that Tazhaykov admitted to FBI agents that he was aware of what Kadyrbayev was doing when he retrieved and disposed of the backpack. Government attorneys also presented jurors with volumes of text messages and Internet searches showing that the defendant was consumed with news of the manhunt for the bombers, including typing in Tsarnaev’s name into an Internet search as early as around 11 p.m. on April 18, hours before officials released the names of the bombing suspects.
Each of the three friends accused of interfering with the investigation is being tried separately, and the trials of the other two defendants are scheduled for September.
FBI Agent John Walker, the last witness to testify for the prosecution, admitted he was verbally tough on Tazhayakov when he questioned him in the late afternoon of April 19, saying that Tsarnaev’s life “was effectively over,” but that Tazhayakov should look out for himself and cooperate with authorities.
Defense attorneys say that their client effectively obeyed, telling agents all he knew without a lawyer present, and is now being prosecuted for his honesty. They have argued that Tazhayakov is being unfairly lumped together with Kadyrbayev when the two acted independently.
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, are accused of detonating two pressure-cooker bombs at the Marathon finish line on April 15, killing three and injuring more than 260. Tamerlan was killed in a shootout with police in the early morning hours of April 19.
Patricia Wen can be reached at email@example.com.