A U.S. jury on Monday found a friend of the accused Boston Marathon bomber guilty of obstructing the investigation into the deadly blasts by removing a backpack containing fireworks shells from the suspect's dorm room.
The friend, Kazakh exchange student Azamat Tazhayakov, was found guilty of conspiracy to obstruct justice and obstruction of justice for going to suspected bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev's room three days after the April 15, 2013 attack and removing a backpack containing empty fireworks shells.
The attack, which occurred near the marathon’s finish line, killed three people and injured more than 260 others, making it the largest mass-casualty attack on U.S. soil since Sept. 11, 2001.
The jury found Tazhayakov not guilty of similar charges involving a laptop computer. Juror Daniel Antonino told reporters outside the courthouse that the jury concluded the men had taken the laptop "because it was valuable, plain and simple," and not to influence the investigation.
Tazhayakov's mother broke down in tears when the verdict was read, while the defendant, dressed in a dark suit and tie, sat quietly between his lawyers. He faces a maximum 20-year prison sentence for obstruction and a five-year maximum for conspiracy but likely will get a lot less under sentencing guidelines. Sentencing was scheduled for Oct. 16.
Prosecutors charged that Tazhayakov and fellow Kazakh exchange student Dias Kadyrbayev removed evidence from Tsarnaev's room at the University of Massachusetts at Dartmouth after realizing that their friend was a bombing suspect.
Tazhayakov's lawyers argued that it was Kadyrbayev who removed the items from the dorm room and then threw them away.
Prosecutors told the jury that both men shared in the decision to remove the items and get rid of them to protect Tsarnaev. Kadyrbayev faces a separate trial in September. A third friend, Robel Phillipos, of Cambridge, Massachusetts, is charged with lying to investigators.
During six days of testimony at U.S. District Court in Boston, jurors heard FBI agents testify that Tazhayakov told them he had been present when the items were removed and later watched as a garbage truck hauled away the backpack. Tazhayakov's attorneys had said their client never touched the backpack or laptop, contending that Kadyrbayev did so and later dropped the backpack into a dumpster.
None of the three men were charged with playing any role in the bombing. One former federal prosecutor said Monday's verdict could raise the stakes for Kadyrbayev's attorneys.
"It doesn't bode well for the next defendant," said Walter Prince, of the law firm Prince Lobel Tye, noting that Tazhayakov's decision not to testify in his own defense during the trial may prompt Kadyrbayev's lawyers to put him on the stand.
"Otherwise the jury is left with just the FBI's version of what occurred," Prince said.
Kadyrbayev has already taken the stand in a pre-trial hearing where his lawyers sought to have statements he made to the FBI after being ordered out of his New Bedford, Massachusetts, home by heavily armed agents thrown out.
They had argued that those statements were involuntary. Woodlock declined to rule on Kadyrbayev's request but rejected a similar pitch from Tazhayakov's lawyers. Tsarnaev is awaiting trial on charges that carry the death penalty.