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Tsarnaev friend convicted of obstructing Boston bombings probe

By Lawrence Crook III, Jason Hanna and Susan Candiotti, CNN
updated 7:23 AM EDT, Tue July 22, 2014
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Jury: Azamat Tazhayakov guilty of charges relating to backpack
  • Prosecutors alleged Tazhayakov helped dispose of Dzhokhar Tsarnaev's items
  • Defense attorney: Different friend, not Tazhayakov, took items
  • His lawyers said Tazhayakov did everything he could to assist the FBI

Boston (CNN) -- A federal jury on Monday found a friend of Boston Marathon bombing suspect Dzhokhar Tsarnaev guilty of obstructing the investigation into the 2013 attack.

The jury found Azamat Tazhayakov guilty of obstructing justice and conspiring to obstruct justice, in connection with the removal of a backpack with potential evidence from Tsarnaev's dorm room after the bombings.

Tsarnaev friend convicted
New video shows Tsarnaev after bombing
Among the images released during the trail was this one of a backpack, alleged to have been taken from Dzokhar Tsarnaev's dorm room and thrown in the garbage. The FBI says it later recovered it from a landfill. Azmat Tazhayakov is accused of helping ditch a laptop and the backpack believed to belong to schoolmate Dzhokhar Tsarnaev. Among the images released during the trail was this one of a backpack, alleged to have been taken from Dzokhar Tsarnaev's dorm room and thrown in the garbage. The FBI says it later recovered it from a landfill. Azmat Tazhayakov is accused of helping ditch a laptop and the backpack believed to belong to schoolmate Dzhokhar Tsarnaev.
Images released during Tazhayakov trial
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Jurors indicated in a verdict questionnaire that they didn't believe a separate allegation -- involving the removal of a laptop computer from the same dorm room -- amounted to obstruction or conspiracy.

But his attorneys said they'll appeal the verdict, maintaining that a different defendant was the one who removed the backpack and put it into a garbage bin, and that the jury was under pressure by a community upset by the bombings to find Tazhayakov guilty.

"He never took a backpack out of the dormitory. ... We will certainly push that the evidence, and my client's intent did not match up with the actions of the case," Tazhayakov attorney Mathew Myers told reporters Monday.

Sentencing for Tazhayakov, who could get up to 25 years in prison, is scheduled for October. The verdict came in the first trial related to the April 15, 2013, bombings that killed three people and injured more than 200 others.

Tazhayakov's mother wept loudly in court when the verdict was read. Tazhayakov spoke briefly to his parents before he was escorted out of the courtroom.

Prosecutors accused Tazhayakov and his roommate, fellow Kazakh national Dias Kadyrbayev, of trying to protect Tsarnaev three days after the bombings by removing a backpack and a laptop from Tsarnaev's dorm room at the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth, which Tazhayakov also attended.

Prosecutors alleged that Kadyrbayev and Tazhayakov took the laptop to their apartment, and that Kadyrbayev, with Tazhayakov's knowledge, tossed the backpack in a trash bin. Authorities eventually found the backpack -- containing Vaseline, a thumb drive and fireworks -- in a landfill.

Kadyrbayev is awaiting trial on the same charges and has pleaded not guilty. Another friend, Robel Phillipos, pleaded not guilty to making false statements. None of Tsarnaev's friends is accused in the bomb plot itself.

Prosecutors: Friends knew suspects' identities before public

Prosecutors told jurors Tazhayakov knew the identity of the suspected bombers -- Tsarnaev and his older brother Tamerlan Tsarnaev -- before the public found out, allegedly texting Kadyrbayev, "i think they got his brother," hours before the public knew their names or their relationship to one another.

The friends recognized the Tsarnaev brothers after authorities released video and still photos asking for the public's helping finding the two men, prosecutors said.

Kadyrbayev told his friends that he believed Dzhokhar Tsarnaev "used the Vaseline 'to make bombs,' or words to that effect," an indictment against him reads.

The government said Tsarnaev texted Kadyrbayev after the bombings and told him he could go to his dorm room and take what he wanted. Kadyrbayev showed that text to Tazhayakov, the government alleged.

Authorities alleged that the friends picked up the backpack and the laptop from Tsarnaev's dorm room on April 18, 2013, shortly before Tsarnaev was taken into custody.

The FBI interviewed the friends as part of the bombing investigation, and lawyers for Tazhayakov said he did everything he could to help the probe when he spoke with investigators. Based on that information, authorities found Tsarnaev's backpack in the landfill, his attorneys said.

Juror: Friends were 'getting rid of evidence'

Daniel Antonino, one of the jurors in Tazhayakov's case, said the panel found him guilty of obstruction because "the backpack was simply taken and discarded like they were getting rid of evidence."

"They just threw it in the trash, so that's obstructing justice. Just taking it from the dorm room, we felt, was obstructing justice," Antonino said.

Antonino said the jury didn't feel the same way about the laptop, because "they didn't destroy it," and because jurors felt the friends saw the laptop as something they should take for its potential monetary value. Antonino cited Tsarnaev's alleged text to Kadyrbayev, inviting him to take what he wanted.

Myers, Tazhayakov's attorney, said his client was being unfairly punished for what Kadyrbayev is alleged to have done. The only thing Tazhayakov took from Tsarnaev's room, Myers said, was a pair of headphones that rightfully belonged to him.

"I understand we've spoken about pronouns in this case: 'They did this, they did that.' (But) my client did not leave that dorm room with a backpack," Myers said. "He can only control what people do to a certain extent. ... 'They' did not do anything.

"Dias Kadyrbayev went and took that backpack to a Dumpster. My client wasn't part of that. How a jury claims that my client had intent to do that with Dias, I guess, is a misconstruing of the plain evidence."

Myers said his team also would object to the court's verdict questionnaire, which asked for both charges whether Tazhayakov should be found guilty because of the backpack, the laptop or both. Myers said the jurors might have thought that saying no to the laptop was significant -- perhaps thinking they were giving Tazhayakov a break -- when in fact it did no such thing.

"We knew that could be misleading to the jury," Myers said.

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

Tamerlan Tsarnaev died in a shootout with police days after the bombing.

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