The prime suspect in the Boston Marathon attacks boasted to friends of knowing how to make a bomb and said it would be good to die a “martyr,” a US court heard Monday.
One of those friends, 20-year-old Azamat Tazhayakov, is the first person to go on trial in connection with the April 15, 2013 double bombing, accused of obstructing and conspiring to obstruct justice.
Three people were killed and 264 injured when two pressure-cooker bombs exploded at the race’s finish line, in an attack allegedly carried out by Chechen brothers Dzhokhar and Tamerlan Tsarnaev.
Dzhokhar Tsarnaev is due to stand trial in November — he is accused of 30 federal charges and could face the death penalty if convicted. Police shot dead his older brother Tamerlan in the days after the attacks.
Tazhayakov, who is from Kazakhstan, is one of three former students accused of interfering with the investigation to protect Tsarnaev while he was on the run from authorities.
The defendant is accused of removing from Tsarnaev’s dorm room a laptop, which was tossed in a dumpster and recovered after a two-day FBI landfill search, and a backpack containing gunpowder residue.
The men were students at the University of Massachusetts, Dartmouth and formed a bond as Russian speakers.
– ‘What he knew and when he knew it’ –
“The critical thing is what he knew and when he knew it,” assistant US attorney Stephanie Siegmann said in her opening arguments in federal court in Boston.
In March 2013, a month before the attacks, Tsarnaev confided his bomb-making skills during a meal with friends, Siegmann said.
Tsarnaev “shared his views that it was good to die as a martyr and with a smile on your face and you would go straight to heaven,” she told the court.
“And he told you in that conversation that he could build a bomb and that it needed gun powder,” she added, addressing the defendant.
On April 18, 2013, Tazhayakov went to Tsarnaev’s dorm room to remove incriminating evidence just hours after the Federal Bureau of Investigation released images of the suspects to the public, she said.
US prosecutors said the defendant texted Tsarnaev while he was on the run, and Siegmann read out messages in court.
“If you want to go to my room and take what’s there,” read Siegmann from one message.
“Ha Ha :)” Tazhayakov was said to have replied.
“The defendant chose to go with his roommate to the dorm room where they found the backpack, the fireworks and some gunpowder residue, and the defendant chose to remove them and brought those things back to his apartment,” Siegmann added.
Tazhayakov faces up to 20 years in prison if convicted.
He sat in court wearing a dark suit, white shirt and a tie, looking pale but healthy. His father was present for Monday’s proceedings.
Defense lawyer Nicholas Woolridge referred repeatedly to the defendant — who was 19 years old at the time — as a “kid.”
He portrayed his client as an innocent youth, caught up in events only because of his friend, and painted a picture of foolhardiness rather than criminal intent.
“This young man here, does he support martyrdom? No,” he told the court.
“You don’t want to be led astray by what they say. He never intended to obstruct justice. Give this kid a shot.”
Two other friends of Tsarnaev, Dias Kadyrbayev and Robel Phillipos, are facing charges in connection with the case.