By Scott Malone
BOSTON (Reuters) – A friend of the accused Boston Marathon bomber goes on trial on Monday charged with obstruction of justice and conspiracy.
Azamat Tazhayakov, a 20-year-old Kazakh exchange student, will be the first of three friends of suspected bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev to stand trial.
Prosecutors contend that he removed a laptop and backpack computer from the suspect’s dorm room as investigators were searching for the person behind the deadly blasts which struck the Marathon crowds in April 2013.
Authorities said these actions delayed the arrest of Tsarnaev, who is charged with killing three people in the bomb attack and shooting dead a police officer at around the time the three friends were in his room at the University of Massachusetts at Dartmouth.
A key issue in the trial will be whether statements that Tazhayakov made to the FBI after he was taken from his New Bedford, Massachusetts, apartment by armed agents and transported in handcuffs to a police barracks were voluntary.
Fellow Kazakh exchange student Dias Kadyrbayev, who faces similar charges and is awaiting trial later this year, told the court in a pretrial hearing that he did not believe he was free to go during the interrogation, conducted on April 19, 2013 into the following morning.
The two were arrested on April 20, 2013, five days after the bombing, on immigration violations and have been in federal custody since.
District Judge Douglas Woodlock warned attorneys during a pretrial hearing that he would declare a mistrial if he found that Tazhayakov’s statements at the time, made without a lawyer present and before he was informed of his right against self-incrimination, were not voluntary.
Tazhayakov could face 25 years in prison if convicted.
Prosecutors said that Tazhayakov, Kadyrbayev and a third friend, Robel Phillipos of Cambridge, Massachusetts, recognized Tsarnaev as one of the suspects in photos the FBI released after the blasts, which also injured 264 people and stand as the largest mass-casualty attack on U.S. soil since Sept. 11, 2001.
They contacted Tsarnaev, who asked them to go to his dorm room and take anything they wanted. Tsarnaev and his older brother, Tamerlan, attempted to escape Boston that night, with Tamerlan dying after a gun battle with police.
Tsarina is awaiting trial on charges that carry the threat of execution if he is convicted.
Phillipos faces the lesser charge of lying to investigators.
(Reporting by Scott Malone; Editing by Stephen Powell)