A friend of Boston Marathon bombing suspect Dzhokhar Tsarnaev was a naive college kid who was prosecuted because he was a "friend of the bomber," a defense lawyer said Wednesday, while prosecutors told a jury the man was an active participant in a plan to protect Tsarnaev by removing altered fireworks and other items from his dorm room.
The descriptions came during closing arguments in the first trial stemming from the 2013 bombings, which killed three people and injured more than 260. Azamat Tazhayakov, 20, is charged with obstruction of justice and conspiracy.
Assistant U.S. Attorney John Capin said Tazhayakov knew Tsarnaev was a bombing suspect after he and other friends saw photos and video of Tsarnaev released by the FBI on April 18, 2013.
Hours later, Capin said, Tazhayakov and two other friends, Dias Kadyrbayev and Robel Phillipos, went to Tsarnaev's dorm room at the University of Massachusetts-Dartmouth after Tsarnaev sent Kadyrbayev a text message telling them they could go to his room and "take what's there."
Capin said Tazhayakov became "scared" when he saw fireworks that had been emptied of gunpowder in Tsarnaev's backpack, because Tsarnaev had told him and other friends weeks before the marathon bombings that gunpowder is one of the ingredients needed to make a bomb. Capin said that when Kadyrbayev found a jar of Vaseline, he told Tazhayakov, "This is what he uses to make bombs." The Vaseline was later found in Tsarnaev's backpack when agents recovered it in a landfill.
"That agreement to take items out, to remove items because they suspected he was the bomber -- that is a conspiracy to obstruct justice," Capin told the jury.
But Tazhayakov's lawyer, Matthew Myers, said Tazhayakov and Phillipos sat passively watching a movie in Tsarnaev's dorm room as Kadyrbayev took the backpack. Myers said Kadyrbayev decided to throw away the bag after his girlfriend ordered him to "get it out of the apartment."
Myers said Tazhayakov was prosecuted simply because he was a "friend of the bomber."
"He's a friend of a kid who committed a heinous act, and friends of bombers are enemies of ours," Myers said. "Guilt by association -- that's exactly what this case is about."
The lawyers made their final remarks to the jury before a packed courtroom that included a victim of the bombings, Marc Fucarile, who lost his right leg in the attack. Liz Norden, the mother of two men who each lost a leg in the bombings, also was in court.
The jury began deliberating Wednesday afternoon.
Kadyrbayev will be tried separately in September. Phillipos, who is charged with lying to investigators, also faces a separate trial.
Tsarnaev is awaiting a November trial and faces the possibility of the death penalty if convicted.
Prosecutors allege Tsarnaev and his brother, Tamerlan, carried out the bombings and killed a Massachusetts Institute of Technology police officer days later. Tamerlan Tsarnaev died following a shootout with police the night the officer was killed. Dzhokhar Tsarnaev was captured hiding in a boat in a Watertown backyard.
This article was originally published on July 16, 2014.