Obstruction Trial Begins for Tsarnaev's Friend Azamat Tazhayakov

In opening arguments today in the trial of Azamat Tazhayakov, one of the two friends of accused Boston Marathon bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev who is charged with obstruction of justice and conspiracy to obstruct justice Azamat's lawyer, Nicholas Woolridge, told the jury, "I hope you give this kid a shot."

Woolridge also told the jury that it was Dias Kadyrbayev,who will be tried at a later date, who took the backback from Jahar's dorm room back to their apartment, and that it was Dias' girlfriend, who will testify under a grant of immunity from prosecution, who told Dias to get rid of it. Woolridge said Dias only told Azamat about getting rid of the backpack after the fact. [More...]

Azamat's family from Kazakhstan has been a visible presence at court proceedings. His father is an oil executive, and says he has faith in our justice system. Here's a website for the family established by Azamat's prior attorney with a history of the Azamat family.

In court today, the AUSA made a big deal over a dinner Azamat, Dias and Jahar had a month before the bombings during which Jahar supposedly told them he knew how to make a bomb, one of the ingredients was gunpowder, and he thought it would be be good to die as a martyr and “go straight to heaven." Jahar texted Azamat a few hours after the bombing and said "Don't go thinking it's me." The Government also says Azamat recognized Jahar in the photos the FBI released of the suspects before going to Jahar's dorm room.

I don't think any of that speaks to Azamat's intent: The Government has to prove he knew of a plan to conceal evidence from the Government and knowingly participated in it.

Four witnesses testified today, two cops and an admissions director of the UMass's international program. A female friend of Jahar, Dias and Azamat also testified about partying and smoking pot with them. She described Azamat as a "mama's boy." Why was she called? Probably just to show the social relationship between them.

The Government doesn't allege any of Jahar's friends were involved in the bombing or had advance knowledge of it. It also acknowledges Azamat did not dispose of the backpack (Dias did.) It claims Azamat agreed with Dias' disposal of it.

“The government will prove to you that the defendant and his co-conspirator removed the backpack for one reason, and that reason was to protect their friend who they had just learned was one of the two suspected marathon bombers.”

Azamat, Dias and a third friend, who is only charged with false statements and will be tried at a later date, went to Jahar's dorm room 3 days after the bombing, hours after the FBI released the photos, and after Jahar had texted Dias telling him “If you want, you can go to my room and take what’s there,” followed by a smiley face. Woolridge told the jury the smiley face referred to marijuana, and that's what Dias was interested in getting. He said while they were at the dorm room, Azamat had headphones on and watched a movie while Dias looked around. He said the only thing Azamat took from the dorm room were the headphones. He pointed out that the white hat Jahar was wearing in the FBI photos was left behind, and that had their intent been to destroy or conceal evidence, they would have taken that too.

The prosecutor said this is a case about what Azamat knew and when. I think it's more a case of what he intended by his actions. It's difficult to predict how strong the Government's case is on intent because almost all of the substantive pleadings are sealed. Azamat and Dias apparently agreed to be interviewed, and said they wanted to assist the investigation, but it appears there is some disagreement over what they said. The FBI did not record their interviews.

The Government has three ways to convict Azamat: either on the substantive count (that Azamat obstructed justice), on the conspiracy count (that he agreed with Dias to obstruct justice), or on an aiding and abetting theory (that he aided Dias' obstruction of justice.)

The objects he is charged with concealing, altering, destroying or removing are Dzhokhar Tsarnaev’s laptop, a backpack containing fireworks, a jar of Vaseline and a thumb drive from Tsarnaev’s dormitory room.

I think the charges are overkill. These kids were not involved in the bombing and had no advance notice of it. No bomb-making materials were found in their apartment. They were under no obligation to call authorities and tell what they knew, or to make any statements at all. Yet they were cooperative and agreed to assist and be interviewed. Putting them away for up to 20 years serves no one.

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  • Display: Sort:
    The FBI did not record their interviews. (none / 0) (#1)
    by unitron on Tue Jul 08, 2014 at 01:32:20 AM EST
    And they expect to be considered professionals?

    Confused by the Timeline (none / 0) (#2)
    by RickyJim on Wed Jul 09, 2014 at 09:47:05 AM EST
    Did the actions of the three friends actually obstruct the investigation in any way?  Of course, even if the answer is no they still have to contend with the conspiracy rap.