A federal jury was to begin its first full day of deliberations Thursday in an obstruction of justice and conspiracy case against a friend of Boston Marathon bombing suspect Dzhokhar Tsarnaev.
During closing arguments Wednesday, the defense told the jury that Azamat Tazhayakov, 20, was being prosecuted because he was a “friend of the bomber.” Prosecutors countered that he was an active participant in a plan to protect Tsarnaev by removing altered fireworks and other items from his dorm room.
The 2013 bombings killed three people and injured more than 260. Prosecutors say Tsarnaev and his elder brother, Tamerlan, are responsible not only for the bombing but for the slaying of a Massachusetts Institute of Technology police officer days later. Tamerlan Tsarnaev died during a shootout with police; Dzhokhar awaits trial.
Assistant U.S. Atty. John Capin said Tazhayakov knew Dzhokhar Tsarnaev was a bombing suspect after he and other friends saw photos and video of the Tsarnaevs released by the FBI on April 18, 2013.
Hours later, Capin said, Tazhayakov and two other friends, Dias Kadyrbayev and Robel Phillipos, went to Tsarnaev's dorm room at the University of Massachusetts-Dartmouth after Tsarnaev sent Kadyrbayev a text message telling them they could go to his room and “take what's there.”
Capin said Tazhayakov became “scared” when he saw fireworks that had been emptied of gunpowder in Tsarnaev's backpack, because Tsarnaev had told him and other friends weeks before the marathon bombings that gunpowder is one of the ingredients needed to make a bomb. Capin said that when Kadyrbayev found a jar of Vaseline, he told Tazhayakov, “This is what he uses to make bombs.” The Vaseline was later found in Tsarnaev's backpack when agents recovered it in a landfill, authorities say.
“That agreement to take items out, to remove items because they suspected he was the bomber — that is a conspiracy to obstruct justice,” Capin told the jury.
But Tazhayakov's lawyer, Matthew Myers, said Tazhayakov and Phillipos sat passively watching a movie in Tsarnaev's dorm room as Kadyrbayev took the backpack. Myers said Kadyrbayev decided to throw away the bag after his girlfriend ordered him to “get it out of the apartment.”
Myers said Tazhayakov was prosecuted simply because he was a “friend of the bomber.”
“He's a friend of a kid who committed a heinous act, and friends of bombers are enemies of ours,” Myers said. “Guilt by association — that's exactly what this case is about.”
The lawyers made their final remarks to the jury before a packed courtroom that included a victim of the bombings, Marc Fucarile, who lost his right leg in the attack. Liz Norden, the mother of two men who each lost a leg in the bombings, also was in court.
The jury deliberated for about 2 1/2 hours Wednesday afternoon, and was scheduled to resume Thursday.
Kadyrbayev will be tried separately in September. Phillipos, who is charged with lying to investigators, also faces a separate trial.
Tsarnaev’s trial is set for November. If convicted, he could face the death penalty.Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times