In the first day of a trial related to last year’s Boston Marathon bombings, jurors were told Monday that the surviving suspect, Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, spoke openly of building bombs with the current trial’s defendant, Azamat Tazhayakov. Prosecutors said that Tazhayakov believed his friend was involved in the attack and later attempted to hide evidence that could incriminate him.
The Boston Marathon bombings occurred on April 15, 2013. Three people were killed and more than 260 injured when two pressure cookers filled with explosives and shrapnel blew up near the Boston Marathon finish line. Prosecutors have used the year since then to build a case against Tsarnaev, who along with his now-deceased older brother Tamerlan has been accused of planning and implementing the bombing. Tsarnaev’s trial is scheduled to begin in November.
Monday marked the start of the trial against Tazhayakov, 20, and the first in a series of trials related to the Boston Marathon bombings. Tazhayakov is one of three or four (sources differ) people charged for actions taken after the bombings and is charged with obstruction and conspiracy.
Prosecutors declared that, about a month before the attack, Dzhokhar Tsarnaev informed Tazhayakov that he believed it was good to die a martyr and that he knew how to build a bomb. Defense attorney Nicholas Wooldridge told the court and jurors on Monday that his client did not believe in martyrdom.
Prosecutors believe that Tazhayakov and Dias Kadyrbayev, another Tsarnaev friend, after seeing Dzhokar Tsarnaev’s picture on the news, attempted to hide evidence against Tsarnaev by removing a backpack they knew contained fireworks from Tsarnaev’s dorm room at the University of Massachusetts-Dartmouth and disposing of it in a nearby Dumpster. If convicted of the most serious charge against him, Tazhayakov could serve up to 20 years in prison.
In her opening arguments, assistant U.S. attorney Stephanie Siegmann informed jurors that Tazhayakov and Kadyrbayev had only one reason for throwing away the backpack, “to protect their close friend Dzhokhar Tsarnaev.” She also described the scene a month before, in a restaurant, when Tsarnaev discussed martyrdom with his friends, reportedly having said, “You would die with a smile on your face and go straight to heaven.”
The backpack in question was later found in a landfill. A trial against Kadyrbayev, who faces similar charges, is scheduled to begin in September.
In addition to the backpack, Siegmann said that the pair also removed a jar of Vaseline from Tsarnaev’s room, which Kadyrbayev believed was a component in Tsarnaev’s bomb-making process. Also removed was a bag of marijuana. Tsarvaev’s laptop computer was later found by investigators in the apartment Tazhayakov and Kadyrbayev shared.
The lead attorney defending Tazhayakov, Arkady Bukh, attempted to distance his client from the actual act of the Boston Marathon bombing. Tazhayakov “loved Boston, and the people of Boston. He never had the intent to hurt anyone,” he said.
Another defense attorney, Nicholas Wooldridge, said the intent of his client in entering Tsarnaev’s room was primarily a hunt for marijuana, insisting that Tazhayakov “never even touched that backpack.” Wooldridge acknowledged that Tazhayakov also removed a pair of his own headphones from the room and that he was actually involved in watching a movie at the time Kadyrbayev threw away the backpack.
Kadyrbayev and Tazhayakov are natives of Kazakhstan who both entered the United States with student visas.
Azamat Tazhayakov’s parents were present in Monday’s courtroom. Amir Ismagulov, Tazhayakov’s father, is an oil executive and former member of Kazakhstan’s Parliament. Also present was Liz Norden, the mother of J. P. and Paul Norden, brothers who each lost a leg in the bombings.
Dzhokhar Tsarnaev faces approximately 30 criminal charges, 17 of which carry the death penalty. He has pleaded not guilty to all the charges. His trial is scheduled to begin in November, and if convicted he will face state-imposed execution. In the meantime, all eyes are focused on this first trial, where Azamat Tazhayakov apparently will testify that at least one of the Boston Marathon bombings suspects spoke of building bombs.
By Gregory Baskin