2 friends of Boston bombing suspect plead not guilty

A courtroom sketch shows  defendants Dias Kadyrbayev, left, and Azamat Tazhayakov as theyappear before Magistrate Judge Marianne Bowler on Tuesday, August 13, in federal court in Boston.

Story highlights

  • Lawyer: Suspect's "only crime" was befriending someone who spoke Russian
  • Dias Kadyrbayev and Azamat Tazhayakov enter not guilty pleas in federal court
  • They face obstruction charges for allegedly helping their friend Dzhokhar Tsarnaev
  • Tsarnaev and his dead brother are accused in the deadly Boston Marathon bombing

Two friends of Boston Marathon bombing suspect Dzhokhar Tsarnaev pleaded not guilty Tuesday in federal court to charges of conspiracy to obstruct justice and obstructing justice with intent to impede authorities.

Handcuffed and dressed in orange jail jumpsuits, Dias Kadyrbayev and Azamat Tazhayakov both voiced their not guilty pleas on each of the counts during their roughly four-minute arraignment Tuesday in Boston. They remained in handcuffs afterward, when they were led out of court.

The two 19-year-old roommates and Kazakh nationals began attending the University of Massachusetts-Dartmouth the same semester as Tsarnaev. They were taken into custody this spring along with Robel Phillipos, a friend of Tsarnaev's from Cambridge, Massachusetts.

Authorities accuse them of helping Tsarnaev after the deadly April 15 blasts by taking items from his southern Massachusetts dorm room to keep them from investigators.

This occurred shortly before Tsarnaev himself was taken into custody after a tense, late-night standoff in Watertown, Massachusetts. He and his brother -- who died after a confrontation with police -- are accused of planting two bombs near the Boston Marathon finish line that left three people dead and more than 260 wounded, then killing a campus police officer days later.

On April 18, three days before the FBI searched Tsarnaev's dorm room, Tazhayakov and Kadyrbayev allegedly went into the dorm, took Tsarnaev's laptop as well as a backpack containing Vaseline, a thumb drive, fireworks and a "homework assignment sheet" and took them back to their New Bedford apartment, the federal indictment against them states.

Timeline: Boston Marathon bombing

"The fireworks container has been opened and manipulated," the indictment says. "As a result, some of the explosive powder was visible."

Kadyrbayev told his roommate that he believed Tsarnaev "used the Vaseline 'to make bombs,' or words to that effect," according to the indictment.

That day, Kadyrbayev showed Tazhayakov a text message from Tsarnaev that read, in part, "If yu want yu can go to my room and take what's there" followed by a smiley face emoticon.

Either that night or early the next day, Kadyrbayev tossed the backpack in a Dumpster, according to the charges.

After Tuesday's brief court hearing, Kadyrbayev's lawyer, Robert Stahl, said his client "had no intent to assist Dzhokhar Tsarnaev." An ethnic Chechen, Tsarnaev spoke Russian like Kadyrbayev and Tazhayakov.

"As Dias' family prays for the victims, they also pray for justice for their son, a law-abiding college student whose only crime was befriending a fellow student who spoke his more comfortable native language," Stahl said later Tuesday in a statement, insisting his client "fully cooperated" with authorities right after they approached him.

And Arkady Bukh, Tazhayakov's attorney, has previously said his client did not touch any of Tsarnaev's items.

As for Phillipos, he is free on $100,000 bond and being monitored electronically, according to terms set this spring and agreed to by his lawyers and prosecutors.

Dzhokhar Tsarnaev himself is awaiting trial, having pleaded not guilty to 30 federal charges tied to the bombing and the subsequent pursuit of him and his brother.