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June 05, 2015

Friend of Boston bomber sentenced to three-and-a-half years for obstruction

Two friends of Boston bomber sentenced for hampering probe

A Kazakh exchange student who was friends with the Boston Marathon bomber was sentenced to 3-1/2 years in U.S. federal prison on Friday for removing a backpack containing fireworks from the suspect's room during a massive manhunt.

Azamat Tazhayakov was the second of three friends of Dzhokhar Tsarnaev to be sentenced for going to Tsarnaev's dorm room three days after the April 2013 bombing, after the FBI released images of Tsarnaev and his older brother, Tamerlan, identifying them as suspects.

Tazhayakov had been convicted last year of obstruction of justice. Another friend, Robel Phillipos, of Cambridge, Massachusetts, who was found guilty of the lesser charge of lying to investigators, is set to be sentenced later on Friday.

The third friend, Dias Kadyrbayev, also of Kazakhstan, was sentenced on Tuesday to six years after pleading guilty to obstructing the investigation into the attack that killed three people and injured 264.

The United States never claimed that the three men had any advanced knowledge of the bombing plan.

"It just makes me sick what Dzohkhar did on April 15," Tazhayakov told the court, holding back tears. "I didn't go there to the dorm room because I made connection that Dzhokhar was some jihadist. I never thought about it. At that moment I saw that one of my friends was alleged bombed and I didn't know if it was true or not."

Prosecutors had sought a four-year sentence for Tazhayakov, well below the statutory maximum of 30 years, which they said reflected his willingness to testify against Tsarnaev.

Prosecutors are seeking a five-year sentence for Phillipos.

All three men, along with Tsarnaev, were 19-year-old students at the University of Massachusetts at the time of the bombing.

Tsarnaev was sentenced to death last month by the same jury that found him guilty of the April 15, 2013, attack.

During their trials last year, lawyers for Tazhayakov and Phillipos painted their clients as naive, marijuana-smoking teenagers who did not understand the consequences of removing the backpack from Tsarnaev's dorm room.

Kadyrbayev later threw the backpack into a dumpster by the apartment he shared with Tazhayakov. FBI investigators recovered it from a landfill several days later.

Tazhayakov agreed to dispose of the backpack out of fear, said his lawyer, Nicholas Wooldridge.

"He didn't agree to get rid of it to help Dzhokhar," Wooldridge said. "He did it because he feared he was going to get in trouble."

Empty fireworks shells found by the backpack were shown as evidence at Tsarnaev's trial, where prosecutors said the black powder used in the bombs was harvested from fireworks.

U.S. District Judge Douglas Woodlock said he regarded Kadyrbayev the most culpable of Tsarnaev's friends.

"This was not a smooth-running obstruction operation. This was fitful, not thoroughly thought out," Woodlock said. "I am quite influenced by the question of what the proportionate sentence should be, that there not be unwarranted disparity."

Former Massachusetts Governor Michael Dukakis, a friend of the Phillipos family, urged leniency in a letter to the court, saying, "I can't understand why justice would be served by incarcerating him."