September 13, 2013

Marathon bombing suspect's friends plead not guilty

The Associated Press

BOSTON — A third friend of the Boston Marathon bombing suspect has pleaded not guilty to obstruction of justice charges.

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Robel Phillipos leaves federal court on Friday in Boston after he was arraigned on charges of hindering the investigation of Boston Marathon bombing suspect Dzhokhar Tsarnaev.

AP

Azamat Tazhayakov was arraigned Friday afternoon, hours after not guilty pleas from two other friends of suspect Dzhokhar Tsarnaev. They are also accused of hindering the investigation into the attack.

Tazhayakov's parents and sister were in court during the brief arraignment. A translator said the family traveled from their native Kazakhstan and plans to remain until the case is resolved.

Tazhayakov's attorney said the government "rushed into things" by charging his client and that the evidence against him is thin.

Tazhayakov and Dias Kadyrbayev are accused of destroying or concealing Tsarnaev's belongings as he evaded authorities following the April bombings.

Robel Phillipos, 19, of Cambridge, was indicted last month on two counts of lying to authorities. His lawyers declined to comment after his brief arraignment Friday at which he also pleaded not guility. He said in a statement that the indictment makes it clear that Phillipos "had nothing to do whatsoever with the Boston Marathon Bombing or destroying any evidence."

"In the end, it will be clear that this prosecution should never have been brought in the first place," attorneys Derege Demissie and Susan Church said in the statement.

Authorities allege that Tsarnaev, 20, and his brother Tamerlan, 26, ethnic Chechens from Russia, planned and carried out twin bombings near the finish of the marathon on April 15. Three people were killed and more than 260 were injured. Tamerlan Tsarnaev died in a gunbattle with police as authorities closed in on the brothers several days after the bombings.

Kadyrbayev and Tazhayakov, both Kazakhstan nationals, are accused of destroying or concealing some of Tsarnaev's belongings as he evaded authorities following the bombings. They are both charged with obstruction of justice and conspiracy to obstruct justice.

The men became friends with Tsarnaev while they all attended the University of Massachusetts-Dartmouth.

Authorities have alleged that the friends were in Tsarnaev's dorm room three days after the bombings when they all left with items including Tsarnaev's laptop and a backpack containing fireworks. Phillipos is accused of lying to investigators during questioning.

Robert Stahl, an attorney for Kadyrbayev, said his client was "shocked and horrified" by the bombings and had "no intent" to obstruct justice.

"I'm saying he didn't dispose of evidence, didn't understand it was evidence, and the rest will come out at trial," Stahl told reporters after the arraignment.

More than two dozen family members and friends attended the hearing to support Phillipos. During an argument for bail in May, his lawyer portrayed him as a frightened and confused young man who was subjected to intense interrogation during the investigation.

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