BOSTON: A US jury yesterday returned the first conviction over the 2013 Boston Marathon attacks, finding a friend of the prime suspect guilty of obstructing the investigation into the bombings.
Azamat Tazhayakov, 20, was convicted of obstruction and conspiracy over taking a backpack from alleged bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev’s college dorm room in the days after the attacks. He faces up to 20 years in prison when sentenced on October 16, although legal experts say he could be deported straight away or serve as little as three years before being deported.
The seven men and five-women jury returned the verdict against the student from Kazakhstan after deliberating less than two full days following a two-week trial in a court in Boston. He is the first of three former students to stand trial, accused of interfering with the investigation to protect Dzhokhar Tsarnaev while he was on the run from the FBI.
Twin bombs planted at the marathon finish line killed three people and injured 264 on April 15, 2013, in an attack allegedly carried out by Chechen brothers Dzhokhar and Tamerlan Tsarnaev.
Dzhokhar is due to stand trial in November -- he is accused of 30 federal charges and could face the death penalty if convicted.
Police shot dead his older brother Tamerlan after the attacks.
Tazhayakov showed no emotion whatsoever when Monday’s verdict was read out, but his mother sobbed loudly from the gallery.
US Attorney Carmen Ortiz thanked members of the government team and the jury for securing the conviction.
“I want to thank the jury for their careful attention and services in this matter,” she told reporters.
Defense lawyers said they would appeal, claiming it was “very difficult” to get an objective juror in a city still reeling from widespread horror and revulsion over the attacks. “It is a brutal day for all of us. It is somewhat of a surprising verdict,” said defense attorney Matthew Myers.
“Trying a case in the middle of a bombed out city it is very difficult to get a juror who is objective. We’ll push for the most lenient sentence,” he added. Prosecutors said a month before the attacks, Tazhayakov heard during a meal with friends as Tsarnaev boasted of being able to make a bomb and saying it would be “good to die as a martyr.”
Tazhayakov went to Tsarnaev’s dorm room to remove incriminating evidence shortly after the Federal Bureau of Investigation released images of the suspects to the public on April 18.
US prosecutors said Tsarnaev texted the defendant while on the run, saying “if you want to go to my room and take what’s there.”
“Ha Ha :)” Tazhayakov replied.
A laptop was taken from the room and tossed in a dumpster, recovered after a two-day FBI landfill search. A backpack containing gunpowder residue and fireworks was also from Tsarnaev’s dorm room.
“The defendant chose to remove them and brought those things back to his apartment,” assistant US attorney Stephanie Siegmann told the opening of the trial on July 7.
The defense portrayed their client -- aged 19 at the time -- as an innocent youth caught up in events because of his friend, and painted a picture of foolhardiness rather than criminal intent.
“You don’t want to be led astray by what they say. He never intended to obstruct justice. Give this kid a shot,” defense lawyer Nicholas Woolridge told the court.
Two other friends of Tsarnaev, Dias Kadyrbayev and Robel Phillipos, are facing charges in connection with the case.
The men were students at the University of Massachusetts, Dartmouth and formed a bond as Russian speakers.AFP