BOSTON – The first of four friends of Boston Marathon bombing suspect Dzhokhar Tsarnaev is set to go on trial on charges he impeded the investigation into the deadly attack.
Jury selection is scheduled to begin Monday in Azamat Tazhayakov's trial on obstruction of justice and conspiracy charges. Opening statements are scheduled for July 7.
Authorities say Tazhayakov and Dias Kadyrbayev admitted they removed Tsarnaev's backpack from his dorm room three nights after the bombing after they saw photographs of Tsarnaev on the news identifying him as one of the suspects. The backpack contained fireworks that had the black powder scooped out.
"This discovery frightened Tazhayakov because the powder had been emptied from the tube. Kadyrbayev also found a jar of Vaseline in the room and told Tazhayakov that he believed Tsarnaev had used the Vaseline `to make bombs.' At that point, Tazhayakov believed that Tsarnaev was involved in planting the bombs at the Boston Marathon," FBI Agent Scott Cieplik wrote in an affidavit.
Kadyrbayev told authorities they threw the backpack and fireworks in the trash "because they did not want Tsarnaev to get into trouble," Cieplik wrote.
Kadyrbayev, who is scheduled to go on trial in September, is accused of putting the backpack and fireworks into a trash bag and throwing it into a trash bin. Authorities later found the items in a landfill.
Tazhayakov is accused of agreeing with the plan to get rid of the items.
Tazhayakov and Kadyrbayev, both 20 and natives of Kazakhstan, came to the United States in 2011 on student visas. They attended the University of Massachusetts-Dartmouth, where they became friends with Tsarnaev, a native of Kyrgyzstan who came to the U.S. with his family from Russia as a young boy.
Tazhayakov's lawyers have portrayed him as a young, naive immigrant who cooperated fully with authorities when he was questioned about Tsarnaev. He is not charged with having anything to do with the bombing or knowing about the attack ahead of time.
"For me, this sounds like a witch hunt," Arkady Bukh, one of his lawyers, said after he was indicted.
Kadyrbayev's girlfriend, Bayan Kumiskali, is expected to testify against Tazhayakov. In a court filing, Tazhayakov's lawyers asked the judge to instruct the jury to use "particular caution" when evaluating Kumiskali's testimony, "given that she was given an agreement from the government not to be prosecuted for her role in the alleged conduct."
Bukh has said he expects Tazhayakov to testify in his own defense.
Text messages exchanged the night the men allegedly removed the items show that Tsarnaev texted Kadyrbayev and told him he could go to his room and "take what's there."
Christopher Dearborn, a professor at Boston's Suffolk University Law School, said the defense could have a difficult time picking fair and impartial jurors because of the emotional impact of the bombing.
"The reality is virtually everybody will have heard of this case, and some percentage of the people who say they can still be objective will not be telling the truth," Dearborn said. "The question is, Will that percentage of people still apply the law and not hold guilt by association against this kid?"