BOSTON — In the first of the trials emerging from the Boston Marathon bombing, a college classmate of the surviving suspect, Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, on Monday was convicted of trying to cover up evidence that could have incriminated his friend in the days after the attack 15 months ago.
The defendant, Azamat Tazhayakov, 20, was found guilty of conspiracy and obstruction of justice in what will be a series of trials leading up to Mr. Tsarnaev’s day in court, which is scheduled for the fall. With each trial, Boston faces yet another reckoning with the events of April 15, 2013, when two homemade bombs killed three people and injured more than 260 others, some of them severely.
Mr. Tsarnaev’s defense team has argued that the prosecution of minor figures in advance of his November trial is a ploy by the government to maintain a steady drumbeat of reminders about the bombings.
In the case that ended Monday, prosecutors said that after Mr. Tazhayakov and another friend, Dias Kadyrbayev, realized that Mr. Tsarnaev was a suspect in the bombing, they removed items including a backpack and a laptop from Mr. Tsarnaev’s dorm room, and agreed to throw out the backpack. The men attended the University of Massachusetts at Dartmouth. The jury found Mr. Tazhayakov guilty in connection with the removal of the backpack, but not the laptop.
Mr. Tazhayakov was the first of four friends of the Tsarnaev brothers who faced charges stemming from the marathon investigation. Mr. Kadyrbayev is set to be tried on the same charges in September.
Mr. Tazhayakov nodded and smiled tersely at his family as he entered the courtroom.
His little sister, a toddler, was playing and grinning in the bench with their parents. His mother broke into sobs as the verdict was read.
The jury deliberated for half of Wednesday, most of Thursday (before one juror became ill), and Monday morning.
The six days of testimony at Boston’s federal court delved into the relaxed social dynamics of the three young men and their friends who played video games and smoked marijuana, and offered glimpses of insight into Mr. Tsarnaev’s conduct before and after the bombings.
A month before the marathon, prosecutors said, he discussed martyrdom and told his friends that he knew how to make a bomb; in the hours after it, he apparently texted Mr. Tazhayakov, denying his involvement.
But the focus was on Mr. Tazhayakov. Prosecutors asserted that he was contacted by Mr. Kadyrbayev shortly after surveillance photos of the Tsarnaev brothers were released by the FBI on April 18 — three days after the bombing.
The government contended that the two met, looked at those photos on Mr. Kadyrbayev’s phone, and that Mr. Kadyrbayev showed Mr. Tazhayakov a text message from Mr. Tsarnaev imploring him to “go to my room and take what’s there.”
“Before the FBI knew that Dzhokhar Tsarnaev was a suspect in that investigation, what did this defendant do? He went to Tsarnaev’s dorm room,” said John A. Capin, an assistant U.S. attorney. Mr. Capin said the two men removed the backpack and the laptop they found there as well as other items, such as a bag of marijuana and a jar of Vaseline. Jurors heard law enforcement agents testify that Mr. Tazhayakov had told them that the two agreed that it should be thrown out.
Another assistant U.S. attorney, Stephanie Siegmann, said the men acted “to protect their friend Dzhokhar Tsarnaev for one reason — because they had learned their friend was the marathon bomber.”
A defense lawyer representing Mr. Tazhayakov, Matthew Myers, said assertions such as that one were “completely unsupported,” and called into question the reliability of the FBI agents’ testimony, when their conversations with Mr. Tazhayakov had not been recorded.
Mr. Tazhayakov’s lawyers did not call any of their own witnesses. But, on cross-examination, they emphasized that their client sat passively in a chair in Mr. Tsarnaev’s room as Mr. Kadyrbayev searched it, and that it was Mr. Kadyrbayev who actually put the backpack in a dumpster near the apartment the men shared in New Bedford, Mass.
“He’s not moving into action to obstruct — that’s fabricated,” Mr. Myers said during his closing argument, in which he warned jurors repeatedly about “guilt by association,” imploring them to focus on Mr. Tazhayakov, not on his friends. “If you want to find a conspiracy, you probably can, because you’re letting the enormity of what happened in this town affect you,” Mr. Myers told the jurors. “The reality is, college kids think differently.”
The same evening the two friends went to Mr. Tsarnaev’s dorm room, police say Dzhokhar Tsarnaev and his older brother, Tamerlan, shot and killed Sean A. Collier, a Massachusetts Institute of Technology campus police officer.
They are said to have carjacked an SUV, then led police officers on a chase in which another officer was wounded, and Tamerlan Tsarnaev, 26, was eventually killed.
Dzhokhar Tsarnaev was discovered hiding in a boat in Watertown, Mass., on April 19.
He is in federal custody and awaiting the November start date of his trial on 30 charges, some of which carry the death penalty.United States - North America - United States government - Massachusetts - Boston - Dzhokhar Tsarnaev - U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation - Tamerlan Tsarnaev