In the first of the trials emerging from the Boston Marathon bombing, a college classmate of the surviving suspect, Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, was on Monday convicted of trying to cover up evidence that could have incriminated his friend in the days after the attack 15 months ago.
The defendant, Azamat Tazhayakov, 20, was convicted of conspiracy and obstruction of justice in the first of what will most likely be a series of trials leading up to Tsarnaev’s day in court, which is scheduled for the fall.
With each trial, Boston faces yet another reckoning with the events of April 15 last year, when two homemade bombs killed three people and injured more than 260 others, some severely.
Tsarnaev’s defense team has argued that the prosecution of minor figures before his trial in November is a ploy by the government to maintain a steady drumbeat of reminders about the bombings.
In the case that ended on Monday, prosecutors said that after Tazhayakov and another friend, Dias Kadyrbayev, realized that Tsarnaev was a suspect in the bombing, they removed items including a backpack and a laptop from Tsarnaev’s dorm room, and agreed to throw out the backpack. The men attended the University of Massachusetts at Dartmouth.
The jury found Tazhayakov guilty in connection with the removal of the backpack, but not the laptop.
Tazhayakov was the first of four friends of the Tsarnaev brothers who faced charges stemming from the marathon investigation. Kadyrbayev is set to be tried on the same charges in September.
Tazhayakov nodded and smiled tersely at his family as he entered the courtroom. His mother broke into sobs as the verdict was read.
The jury deliberated for half of Wednesday, most of Thursday (before one juror became ill) and on Monday morning.
Tazhayakov faces a maximum of 20 years in prison on the obstruction charge and five on the conspiracy charge, though Judge Douglas Woodlock could consider lesser penalties at sentencing on Oct. 16.
A lawyer for Tazhayakov, Matthew Myers, said he would appeal.
The six days of testimony at Boston’s federal court delved into the relaxed social dynamics of the three young men and their friends who played video games and smoked marijuana, and offered glimpses of insight into Tsarnaev’s conduct before and after the bombings.
A month before the marathon, prosecutors said, he discussed martyrdom and told his friends he knew how to make a bomb; in the hours after it, he apparently texted Tazhayakov, denying his involvement.
However, the focus was on Tazhayakov. Prosecutors said that he was contacted by Kadyrbayev shortly after surveillance photographs of the Tsarnaev brothers were released by the FBI on April 18 — three days after the bombing.
The government said that the two met, looked at those photographs on Kadyrbayev’s phone, and that Kadyrbayev showed Tazhayakov a text message from Tsarnaev imploring him to “go to my room and take what’s there.”
“Before the FBI knew that Dzhokhar Tsarnaev was a suspect in that investigation, what did this defendant do? He went to Tsarnaev’s dorm room,” said John Capin, an assistant US attorney.
Capin said the two men removed the backpack and the laptop they found there, as well as other items like a bag of marijuana and a jar of Vaseline.
Jurors heard law enforcement agents testify that Tazhayakov had told them the two agreed it should be thrown out.