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July 7, 2014

Bombing suspect's classmate hid evidence to shield him, jury told

BOSTON — A college classmate of Dzhokhar Tsarnaev conspired with other young men to protect their friend, "who they knew was being investigated for the Boston Marathon bombings," a prosecutor told federal court jurors.

The three men, then classmates at the University of Massachusetts at Dartmouth, removed a laptop and a backpack containing explosives-making materials from Tsarnaev's residence, Assistant U.S. Attorney Stephanie Siegmann said as the first Marathon bombing-related trial started in Boston.

The alleged acts by Azamat Tazhayakov, 20, who's charged with obstruction of justice in a terrorism investigation, came as authorities sought Tsarnaev three days after the April 2013 bombing that killed three people and injured 260.

"They discussed what to do with the backpack," Siegmann said. "The evidence will show the defendant and his roommate decided to get rid of it."

Hours after the Marathon bombing, Tsarnaev texted Tazhayakov, "Don't go thinking it's me," the prosecutor said.

Tazhayakov used his computer to look at photos of the bombing suspects released by the Federal Bureau of Investigation, she said. Then he and the two other friends went to Tsarnaev's dormitory room, she said.

The men took a laptop, Vaseline, a bag of marijuana and a thumb drive from the room, she said. While they were gathering the items, one held up the jar and said Tsarnaev used the Vaseline in making the bombs, Siegmann said.

"The defendant thought Dzhokhar Tsarnaev was one of the Boston Marathon bombers," she said.

Nicholas Wooldridge, a defense attorney, told the jury that one of the others, Dias Kadyrbayev, took the backpack.

"I'll tell you right now he didn't do it, Wooldridge said of his client. ''He pled not guilty and he means it."

Tazhayakov was watching a movie when the other man took the pack, the lawyer said.

"My client never even touched that backpack and he never tossed it in a Dumpster," he said. "That was the other guy, Dias Kadyrbayev."

"You're going to see a lot of doubt in this case, especially when it comes to intent, my client's mental state," Wooldridge said. "Azamat's actions will show he never intended to obstruct justice. He never intended to help the bomber."

Tazhayakov took only a pair of his headphones that Tsarnaev had taken from him, leaving behind incriminating items including the white hat Tsarnaev was wearing in surveillance photos, wires and wire cutters, according to the defense.

Tazhayakov, Kadyrbayev and Robel Phillipos are charged only with actions taken after the bombing. None is accused of being involved the attack itself, the deadliest terrorist strike in the U.S. since Sept. 11, 2001. Kadyrbayev and Phillipos are to be tried later.

If convicted, Tazhayakov faces as long as 20 years in prison.

Siegmann said the government will present evidence that Tsarnaev in March told the defendant during a meal at a restaurant that he believed martyrdom was the way to heaven.

Tsarnaev, 20, faces trial later this year and could be sentenced to death if convicted. He pleaded not guilty to a 30- count indictment accusing him of masterminding the attack with his brother, Tamerlan, who was killed during a police manhunt.

The three friends argued in May to U.S. District Judge Douglas Woodlock that their statements to federal agents after a raid on the apartment shared by Tazhayakov and Kadyrbayev should be disallowed as evidence against them because they were involuntary.

Woodlock rejected Tazhayakov's and Phillipos's arguments. The judge said he will reconsider Tazhayakov's during the trial and might hear evidence Monday with the jury out of the room on whether his statements were voluntary. The judge hasn't ruled on Kadyrbayev's statements.

The warrantless raid on the apartment was ordered by FBI Director Robert Mueller as the manhunt for Tsarnaev and his brother spread across Boston, FBI Special Agent John Walker testified in May.

FBI agents who initially believed Tsarnaev might have been hiding with his friends testified in May that Tazhayakov and Kadyrbayev were questioned for more than four hours at a state police barracks without lawyers present.

Tazhayakov is the oldest child of a Kazakhstan oil executive, Amir Ismagulov. He and his wife have been living in Boston since their son's arrest and have attended each court hearing. Ismagulov has said in interviews that his son is innocent.

The defense is receiving assistance from a jury consultant, Richard Gabriel, who was in the courtroom during jury selection. Gabriel worked for the defense in trials including those of Enron Corp. executives, O.J. Simpson and music producer Phil Spector, according to his company, Los Angeles-based Decision Analysis.

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