Reuters | 07/14/2014
BOSTON, July 14 (Reuters) – An FBI agent who interrogated a friend of the accused Boston Marathon bomber testified on Monday that he had told the friend that the bomber’s life was "effectively over."
Azamat Tazhayakov, 20, is the first of three friends of Dzhokhar Tsarnaev to face trial on charges of interfering with the investigation by going to the suspect’s dorm room and removing a laptop and backpack containing empty fireworks casings three days after the April 15, 2013, attacks.
FBI special agent John Walker led a search of an apartment in New Bedford, Massachusetts, where Tazhayakov lived with fellow Kazakh exchange student Dias Kadyrbayev four days after the bombing attack that killed three people and injured 264.
Walker has said he was pursuing a lead that Tsarnaev was hiding out at the apartment, but the lead turned out to be false. At the time, the bureau was concerned that other conspirators may have been involved in the bombing plot. Tsarnaev’s older brother, Tamerlan, also a suspect in the bombing, was killed hours earlier after a shootout with police.
On Monday, Walker testified he arrived at the apartment after perhaps more than 60 heavily armed law enforcement officials had ordered the roommates and a woman identified as Kadyrbayev’s girlfriend out of the apartment through a loudspeaker.
Tazhayakov was sitting in the back of a police car, handcuffed, with his shirt removed because "my colleagues were concerned anyone exiting that apartment might be bearing explosives on their person," he said. Walker said he asked Tazhayakov about any possible threats in the apartment because his colleagues would be entering it.
"In an effort to elicit truthful info on an immediate basis, I told him Dzhokhar Tsarnaev’s life was effectively over, whether he was still living or going away," Walker said as the second week of the trial got under way. "I told the defendant that the defendant’s life did not need to be over."
He said Tazhayakov agreed to go with authorities to a state police barracks where he was questioned. Hours later, early the next morning, Walker said he recalled the defendant saying, "I’m beginning to think we’re being held against our will."
"I told him he was entirely free to go, that there was a cab waiting out front," Walker said.
Tazhayakov’s attorneys argued before the trial that their client’s statements during that interview, which began April 19 and ran into the next morning, should not be admitted at trial because he had not believed he was free to go at the time.
Walker has said he interviewed Kadyrbayev and Tazhayakov, and a third person he described as Kadyrbayev’s girlfriend.
Kadyrbayev and Tazhayakov, as well as Robel Phillipos of Cambridge, Massachusetts, have been charged with hindering the probe into the bombing attack.
Tazhayakov could face up to 25 years in prison if convicted of obstruction of justice and conspiracy. Kadyrbayev faces the same charges. Phillipos is accused of the lesser charge of lying to investigators.
(Editing by Scott Malone and Doina Chiacu)
Tsarnaev friend’s FBI interviews were voluntary, judge rules
Zachary T. Sampson
Boston Globe | July 15, 2014
A federal judge today rejected claims that Azamat Tazhayakov was forced to speak to authorities against his will when they asked him last year about his college friend, Boston Marathon bombing suspect Dzhokhar Tsarnaev.
Tazhayakov is charged with obstruction of justice for allegedly working with two other friends to impede the investigation into the April 15, 2013, bombing, which killed three people and injured more than 260 others.
Authorities said Tazhayakov helped remove a backpack containing fireworks, a laptop, and several other items from Tsarnaev’s University of Massachusetts Dartmouth dorm room. Investigators later found the bag in a New Bedford landfill.
Officers who detained Tazhayakov at his apartment were “in SWAT gear pointing lasers at him,” said defense lawyer Diane Ferrone. They held him for questioning at a local barracks for hours without a shirt, she said.
“He was never in a position where he was free to leave, and he was never speaking to the agents voluntarily,” Ferrone argued.
But US District Court Judge Douglas P. Woodlock rejected the defense team’s attempt to have Tazhayakov’s statements thrown out. The judge said that “if he’d asked,” Tazhayakov “was free to leave.”
“Was the nature of the investigation more rugged than it needed to have been? That’s not a question that I think I may properly answer,” Woodlock said from the bench.
The decision came during a brief hearing in US District Court in Boston today to clear up final issues before closing arguments to the jury, which are set for Wednesday. Attorneys jousted a little over the wording of specific instructions and questions that will be put before the jury tomorrow.
Outside the courtroom after the hearing, Tazhayakov’s lawyers, who rested their case Monday without calling any witnesses, said they were “confidently optimistic” as the trial nears its end.
Jurors heard from about 15 witnesses, more than half of whom were FBI agents.
Tazhayakov is one of three college friends of Tsarnaev — all of whom pleaded not guilty — accused of hindering the probe into the bombing.
According to testimony, Tazhayakov’s off-campus roommate, Dias Kadyrbayev, went to Tsarnaev’s dorm room at UMass Dartmouth hours after the FBI released photos of the bombing suspects, and took Tsarnaev’s backpack, containing manipulated fireworks, and a laptop, among other items, allegedly in response to a text from Tsarnaev saying, “yu can go to my room and take what’s there.”
Tazhayakov and another friend, Robel Phillipos, later joined Kadyrbayev in the dorm room, according to testimony. Hours later, Kadyrbayev allegedly discarded the backpack in a Dumpster behind the New Bedford apartment he shared with Tazhayakov.
Defense attorneys say that Tazhayakov had nothing to do with the removal and disposal of the backpack, and did not suspect that his close friend, Tsarnaev, could be behind the horrific bombing.
Tazhayakov and Kadyrbayev, charged with obstruction of justice, face up to 20 years in prison if convicted. Phillipos, 20, of Cambridge, faces charges of lying to investigators about his whereabouts that night and could face an eight-year sentence if found guilty.
Tsarnaev is scheduled to go to trial in November, and faces the death penalty, if convicted. He and his older brother, Tamerlan, also allegedly killed an MIT police officer. Tamerlan was killed in a shootout with police in the early morning hours of April 19.
John R. Ellement of the Globe staff contributed to this report.
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