Friend of accused Boston bomber found guilty of obstructing justice

By Scott Malone and Daniel Lovering

BOSTON (Reuters) - A U.S. jury on Monday found a friend of the accused Boston Marathon bomber guilty of obstructing the investigation into the deadly blasts by removing a backpack containing fireworks shells from the suspect's dorm room.

The friend, Kazakh exchange student Azamat Tazhayakov, was found guilty of conspiracy to obstruct justice and obstruction of justice for going to suspected bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev's room three days after the April 15, 2013 attack and removing a backpack containing empty fireworks shells.

The jury found Tazhayakov not guilty of similar charges involving a laptop computer.

His mother broke down in tears when the verdict was read, while Tazhayakov, dressed in a dark suit and tie, sat quietly between his lawyers.

Prosecutors have said Tazhayakov, fellow Kazakh exchange student Dias Kadyrbayev and Robel Phillipos of Cambridge, Massachusetts, removed evidence from Tsarnaev's room at the University of Massachusetts at Dartmouth after realizing that their friend was depicted in photos the FBI released of the suspected bomber.

Tazhayakov could face up to 20 years in prison on the obstruction of justice count and up to five years on the conspiracy count. He will be sentenced on Oct. 16, U.S. District Judge Douglas Woodlock said.

Kadyrbayev is awaiting trial on the same charges later this year, while Phillipos faces the lesser charge of lying to investigators.

During six days of testimony at U.S. District Court in Boston, jurors heard FBI agents testify that Tazhayakov told them he had been present when the items were removed and later watched as a garbage truck hauled away the backpack.

They also saw a videotaped statement from Kadyrbayev's girlfriend saying that she told him to dispose of the backpack when she realized the FBI was hunting for Tsarnaev.

Tazhayakov's attorneys had said their client never touched the backpack or laptop, contending that Kadyrbayev did so and later dropped the backpack into a dumpster.

None of the three men were charged with playing any role in the largest mass-casualty attack on U.S. soil since Sept. 11, 2001, which injured more than 260 people in addition to killing three.

Tsarnaev is awaiting trial on charges that carry the death penalty. His older brother, Tamerlan, who prosecutors contend also played a key role in the attack, died following a gun battle with police several days after the bombing.