In this courtroom sketch, defendants Dias Kadyrbayev, left, and Azamat Tazhayakov appear before Magistrate Judge Marianne Bowler Tuesday, Aug. 13, 2013 in federal court in Boston. The two college friends of Boston Marathon bombing suspect Dzhokhar Tsarnaev pleaded not guilty to allegations they conspired to obstruct justice by agreeing to destroy and conceal some of their friendâ€™s belongings as he evaded authorities. Photo: Margaret Small
On May 1, 2013, Dias Kadyrbayev, 19, and Azamat Tazhayakov, 19, were charged with conspiracy to obstruct justice and obstructing justice with the intent to impede the Boston Marathon bombing investigation. The two college friends of the surviving bombing suspect Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, are nationals of Kazakhstan who were residing in New Bedford, Massachusetts on student visas. The case is being prosecuted by Assistant US Attorneys Stephanie Siegmann and John Capin under Carmen Ortiz.
TMO was at the Moakley Federal Courthouse for the arraignment on August 13. The boys were brought into the courtroom handcuffed. US Marshalls removed their handcuffs for the hearing. They turned around briefly to meet eyes with family and supporters. The thin young Asians, who are being kept in 24 hour isolation, looked nervous but hopeful in their orange jumpsuits. They confirmed that they understood the charges and said â€œNot Guiltyâ€ in response to both counts. Azamat Tazhayakobâ€™s parents and siblings were in the front row.
Judge Marianne Bowler interrupted US Attorney Siegmann while she was talking, in order to tell the Tazhayakoub family that they canâ€™t let the baby crawl all over the courtroom. It seemed unnecessarily abrupt, since she was not making any noise. An older sister took the baby outside. The judge then asked Siegmann to repeat the charges, as they exchanged chummy smiles. Siegmann maintained a light, breezy demeanor as she informed the two teens that they face 25 years in prison plus a $250,000 fine and deportation if found guilty.
They are accused of throwing Dzhokhar Tsarnaevâ€™s backpack containing fireworks and a jar of Vasoline into a dumpster and taking his laptop after receiving a text suggesting they go to Tsarnaevâ€™s room to â€œtake whatâ€™s there,â€ around the time his face appeared on TV as a wanted suspect. The FBI claims to have found this backpack, conveniently identified by a UMass Dartmouth homework assignment, in a landfill.
Siegmann announced that government prosecutors have 15-20 witnesses, and that the trial is likely to take 2 weeks. The next court date is an â€œinitial status hearingâ€ on Sept. 26.
Azamatâ€™s mother was crying inconsolably on the way out. An Asian woman who observed the hearing told Azamatâ€™s father, â€œYour son is very strong.â€ Azamatâ€™s family doesnâ€™t speak English well and was not responding to questions. Diaz Kadyrbayevâ€™s father was talking through a Russian translator. Both fathers were very well dressed.
Azamatâ€™s father, Amir Ismagulov owns oil fields in Kazakhstan. Azamat came to the US to study oil engineering so he could work in the family business. Ismagulov insists his son had no knowledge of Tsarnaevâ€™s alleged role in the bombing.
â€œThe entire family feels that the government is scapegoating them because they are Muslims and foreign students,â€ Tazhayakovâ€™s attorney, Arkady Bukh told reporters. â€œHe is absolutely not guilty. If he wanted to assist in terrorism, he would have hid the computer.â€ Kadyrbayevâ€™s attorney Robert Stahl described his client as â€œa law-abiding college student whose only crime was befriending a fellow student who spoke his more comfortable native language.â€
â€œWe look forward to the evidence eventually proving that Dias did not obstruct justice, nor knowingly or intentionally take evidence from Dzohkhar Tsarnaevâ€™s dorm room. The FBI recovered all of the items because of Diasâ€™ complete cooperation with their investigation,â€ Stahl said. â€œDias Kadyrbayev and his family also grieve for the victimsâ€™ families and want justice for the victims.â€
Yet – even if the defendants did remove fireworks from Tsarnaevâ€™s apartment, what does that prove? Since fireworks are illegal in Massachusetts, it would be reasonable to want them to be gone, if you knew the police was likely to stop by. There has been no evidence or federal agency report citing that the fireworks were used in the bombing but rather, were simply found in the suspectâ€™s room.
â€œThe fireworks devices allegedly found during the investigation… contain limited quantities of explosive or combustible chemical composition designed to deflagrate (burn) rather than detonate like dynamite, TNT or military explosives,â€ said Julie Heckman, Executive Director of the American Pyrotechnics Association.
â€œWe believe it is virtually impossible to create the level of destruction and devastation caused in Boston with legitimate consumer fireworks and suspect that the investigation will ultimately point toward other materials being responsible for the creation of the deadly pressure cooker bombs,â€ she concluded.
The two former UMass Dartmouth students were originally detained for immigration violations. They were then questioned for 12 hours over two days by the FBI without a lawyer present. Another friend, Robel Phillipos, who is being tried separately, was charged with lying to the FBI. Phillipos could face up to eight years in jail and a $250,000 fine.
The original criminal complaint against Dzhokhar Tsarnaev is based entirely on an unsubstantiated claim made by an FBI agent – which is why his friends are so important to the prosecution. If government prosecutors can get Tsarnaevâ€™s friends to â€œcooperate,â€ they no longer need to present any convincing evidence. When the defendants are Muslims accused of Terrorism, very few juries ever question government claims.
Attorney Carmen Ortiz with the same Judge Bowler convicted Tarek Mehanna based on inflammatory rhetoric. To get around the lack of evidence, the government threatened Mehannaâ€™s friends into becoming cooperating witnesses.
She also prosecuted Rezwan Ferdaus, a US citizen who was entrapped by the FBI and sentenced to 17 years. Because Ortiz intimidated him into accepting a plea bargain, there was no trial and therefore no public evidence to support the charges against him.
Ortizâ€™s usual gameplay links the accused with a vague global Islamic Conspiracy. Court proceedings are conducted in a racist, demeaning way, with expert witnesses giving false testimony. Evan Kohlmann, who narrated Ortizâ€™s prosecution of Mehanna and Yassin Aref has already testified to Congress regarding the Boston bombingâ€™s link to â€œal Qaeda.â€
The politically ambitious lead US prosecutor was investigated by Congress for â€œblatant prosecutorial intimidationâ€ when computer hacker Aaron Swartz committed suicide after Ortiz threatened him with 50+ years in prison and a $4 million fine. Judges have reprimanded her for â€œoverkillâ€ using federal charges. Glenn Greenwald contrasted her predatory prosecution of the young and powerless with the â€œincredible leniency given by Ortizâ€™s office to large companies and executives accused of serious crimes.â€
Attorney Harlan Protass writes in Slate, â€œGiven the heinous nature of the marathon bombing and the international spotlight on the attack, Ortiz must be under enormous pressure to go after Kadyrbayev and Tazhayakov with everything sheâ€™s got. The Boston community and local law enforcement are probably encouraging her to do so.â€