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Dzhokhar Tsarnaev’s college friends to be sentenced this week

Boston marathon bombing suspect Dzhokhar Tsarnaev (right) posed with Azamat Tazhayakov (left) and Dias Kadyrbayev in an undated photo.REUTERS/File/HANDOUT

Three college friends of Dzhokhar Tsarnaev are slated to be sentenced in separate hearings this week, and each of the young men ensnared in the Boston Marathon bombing investigation could spend several years in prison.

A lawyer for one of the friends said his client is looking forward to a conclusion in his case.

“We hope for the best possible resolution, the most lenient penalty we can get,” said Arkady Bukh, one of the lawyers for Azamat Tazhayakov, who attended the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth with Tsarnaev. Tazhayakov was convicted by a jury last year of taking a backpack containing fireworks from Tsarnaev’s dorm room and throwing it into a dumpster. His sentencing hearing is scheduled for Friday, and federal prosecutors are seeking a sentence of four years.


Bukh said Tazhayakov offered to cooperate with investigators and testify against Tsarnaev, and he hopes to be able return to his native Kazakhstan soon, where family members, friends, and the media have watched Tsarnaev’s case closely.

“He made a mistake, and he’s already paid a great, great price. The family hurts, he’s suffered a lot, and he just wants to come back home,” Bukh said.

Tazhayakov and Dias Kadyrbayev, another Kazakh who was also a college friend of Tsarnaev, have been in prison since their arrest in May 2013 for disposing of the backpack and taking a laptop from Tsarnaev’s dorm room. Authorities recovered the backpack in a landfill in New Bedford, and found the laptop in the apartment the friends shared.

The two had taken the items after they recognized Tsarnaev in photos of the bombing suspects released by the FBI and broadcast by the media. Kadyrbayev texted Tsarnaev, saying, “U saw the news?” and then “u saw urself there?”

Tsarnaev then told his friend he could take what he wanted from his dorm room.


Both were charged with conspiracy and obstruction of justice.

Following Tazhaykov’s conviction by a jury, Kadyrbayev pleaded guilty under an agreement that prosecutors recommend that he serve no more than seven years in prison. He faced more than 20 years under sentencing guidelines. He is scheduled to be sentenced Tuesday.

Prosecutors are seeking a longer sentence for Kadyrbayev because of his text messages with Tsarnaev, and because he was the one who searched Tsarnaev’s dorm room.

“He showed the backpack to Tazhayakov and they agreed to remove the backpack from Tsarnaev’s room,” prosecutors said. Kadyrbayev was also the one who took a computer from the dorm room, prosecutors said.

A third college friend, Robel Phillipos, 20, who had also attended high school with Tsarnaev in Cambridge, was convicted in October 2014 of lying to investigators about seeing the other friends take the backpack. He is scheduled to be sentenced Friday, and faces up to eight years in prison.

Khairullozhon Matanov, a Quincy cab driver and friend of Tsarnaev’s older brother and accomplice Tamerlan, is slated to be sentenced on June 18.

Authorities said Matanov met with the Tsarnaev brothers 40 minutes after the Marathon bombings, and he took them out to dinner that night.

However, authorities said, he had no knowledge that the brothers carried out the attacks.

Matanov has been in prison since his arrest in May 2014 on charges that he destroyed files on his computer after he recognized the Tsarnaev brothers in the FBI photos of the bombing suspects. He faces a sentence of 30 months in prison under a plea agreement with prosecutors.


All four men have been criticized for failing to contact the FBI after they recognized the Tsarnaev brothers in the FBI photos.

Hours after the photos were released, the Tsarnaev brothers shot and killed MIT police Officer Sean Collier and engaged in a firefight with police in Watertown that left at least one other officer gravely injured.

Joseph W. Rogers, Collier’s stepfather, said in a victim impact statement in advance of Kadyrbayev’s sentencing hearing that Kadyrbayev could have prevented Collier’s death, saying, “He chose to say nothing, and because of that, he has taken everything away from us.”

One of Collier’s sisters has asked to address Kadyrbayev during his sentencing hearing. Prosecutors say the family has standing in the case under the federal Crime Victims’ Rights Act.

But Kadyrbayev’s lawyers asked that the Collier family’s statements be barred from his sentencing, saying the officer’s death, however tragic, could not be attributed to Kadyrbayev’s crimes.

“Dias is truly remorseful and accepts responsibility for his actions,” his lawyers said, but, “the Tsarnaev brothers alone are responsible for the murder of Sean Collier.”

US District Judge Douglas P. Woodlock will decide whether to consider the Collier family’s statements.

Tsarnaev’s college friends, and Matanov, have garnered sympathy from some who say they should not be blamed for the crimes of the Tsarnaev brothers. None of the friends was accused of having prior knowledge of the bombing.


Sympathizers from around the world have written to Matanov in prison and have also written to the judge in his case, asking for mercy.

“They say ‘the punishment needs to fit the crime’ and in my opinion, he’s been punished enough,” said Rahma Sezgin, who wrote from Germany.

Perhaps the most high-profile demonstration of public support came when former Massachusetts governor Michael Dukakis testified at Phillipos’s trial that the young man accused of lying to investigators as a teenager was not representative of the young man with political aspirations he had befriended years earlier.

One of Phillipos’s lawyers, Derege B. Demissie, would say of the pending sentencing only that “we’re hoping for a fair conclusion to this.” Phillipos has been free on bail since his conviction for lying to investigators.

Phillipos’s mother wrote a letter to Woodlock asking for mercy for her son.

In the four-page letter, she recounted escaping from political turmoil in her native Ethiopia, her struggles as a single mother while earning a master’s degree from Boston University, and the values she sought to instill in her only son.

“Your Honor, I know and I believe my son was in extreme state of confusion and has never had any intention to cover up such a heinous crime,” Genet Bekele said in a letter filed with the court Sunday, asking that her son be sentenced to probation, rather than prison. “He is to his core against any sort of violence, let alone such a barbaric attack on innocent children, women, and men.”


Milton J. Valencia can be reached at Follow him on Twitter @miltonvalencia.