For the first time since the Boston Marathon bombings, a jury has assessed the evidence in a criminal case connected to the tragedy and weighed in with a verdict.
Although many questioned whether a jury drawn from the eastern region of Massachusetts could fairly and impartially decide a Marathon-related case, seven men and five women deliberated for 15 hours over three days before finding Azmat Tazhayakov guilty of conspiracy and obstruction of justice.
Interestingly, the jury found Tazhayakov guilty of evidence relating to the destruction of Dzhokhar Tsarnaev’s backpack but not his laptop computer. The prosecution will say the split verdict demonstrates how seriously the jury took its job and how it was able to carefully and rationally reflect on the evidence. The defense team is already singing another tune, questioning whether jurors from these parts could separate the emotion of what happened last April from the evidence presented in the courtroom. It sounds like that will be an issue that goes up on appeal.
It’s always tense waiting for a jury to enter the room to deliver a verdict, and Tazhayakov was no exception. The defendant’s mother was in the courtroom along with several other family members, and she could be heard crying after the verdict was read.
After the jury was polled and discharged, U.S. District Court Judge Douglas P. Woodlock told the lawyers that he thinks the case was “extraordinarily well” tried. “I run a tight ship,” the judge said, praising the attorneys on both sides for their conduct and skills in front of the jury.
Tazhayakov now has seven days to file a Rule 29 motion in which he’ll ask the judge to set aside the jury’s verdict and enter a not guilty finding. Needless to say, the odds of Woodlock granting such a motion are slim.
The parties will return to court in October for sentencing. By that point, a pre-sentencing report will have been completed and the judge will have to make a difficult decision about how much prison time Tazhayakov should receive for his role in impeding an investigation into the bombings. He faces a maximum penalty of 25 years but is unlikely to receive anything close to that. It’s possible an issue could arise over whether victims of the Marathon bombings have the right to address the court at sentencing. We saw that question arise during the sentencing of James “Whitey” Bulger’s girlfriend, Catherine Greig.
The defense may object to impact statements on grounds that Tazhayakov wasn’t convicted of the bombings and allowing the victims to speak would be unduly prejudicial to the defendant. My bet is the judge would allow folks to give impact statements with the proviso that they are being considered for a limited purpose.
One would expect the government will point out at sentencing that many of the events after last year’s Marathon might have been avoided had the defendant not done what the jury has now convicted him of doing. The defense likely will counter that Tazhayakov is a 20-year-old kid who had absolutely nothing to do with what happened at the finish line.
Tazhayakov’s lawyers were surprisingly chatty during the trial. They held press conferences at the end of most trial days and held a whopper of one after the verdict today (July 21). One of Tazhayakov’s lawyers, Nicholas Wooldridge, said he will ask the judge to sentence his client to time served. He questioned whether his client received a fair trial and suggested to the media that the jurors were under pressure to render a verdict against Tazhayakov.
Interestingly, I caught up with a juror about that issue. He said the Marathon bombings played no role in the jury’s decision.
“My fellow jurors were 100 percent dedicated to doing our job,” he said, “and that was taking everything else out of consideration and focusing on just the law.”
He also noted that the jurors were at 11-1 in favor of guilt this morning before the lone holdout had a change of heart.
One topic that may be the subject of further discussion was a comment the juror made about the defense’s decision not to put on a case. A defendant obviously has a right to remain silent and is under no obligation to present any evidence at trial.
“We were all shocked when the prosecution rested and the defense immediately rested,” the juror said. “We were like, ‘You’re not going to put a defense on?’ They didn’t call a single character witness. Someone said, ‘Who could they have called?’ How about a professor? How about a neighbor? They called no one.”
– David E. Frank
Kevin Cullen: Azamat Tazhayakov’s family struggles with son’s conviction in Boston Marathon bombing investigation obstruction case
Azamat Tazhayakov’s father sat stoically in Courtroom 1 in the federal courthouse. He put on his headset to learn his son’s fate in a language he could understand.
Ismagoulov Amir Tazhayakhovich is a successful man, an oil executive in his native Kazakhstan. He sent his son to elite schools, and when Azamat turned 18 he sent him to, of all places, the University of Massachusetts at Dartmouth, where Azamat became friends with a kid named Dzhokhar Tsarnaev.
Azamat was, like a lot of Kazakh kids, obsessed with American pop culture and wanted to experience America, up close and personal. When Azamat was a student in London, he went to Princess Diana’s memorial and laid a wreath. When he got to New York, one of the first things he did was to take the boat out to the Statue of Liberty.
Ismagoulov insisted his son was a good boy, innocent of tampering with evidence belonging to his friend, the accused Boston Marathon bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, and he was convinced an American jury would acquit him.
But as that jury filed in Monday afternoon, Ismagoulov betrayed anything but confidence. His wife, Tuyrsynai, showed even less. She grabbed their 2-year-old daughter, Almira, put her on her lap, then covered Almira with a brightly covered scarf, as if to shield her from what was about to happen. Then she rocked Almira, the same way she used to rock Azamat.
In that moment before the verdict was read, in that brief slice of silence, the tinny voice of Almira leaked from beneath the scarf: she was singing.
Azamat’s father has rudimentary English, and he sank when he heard the word guilty. He knew what it meant. It meant his son is looking at 25 years in a federal penitentiary, and all the oil money in the world can’t change that.
Azamat’s mother speaks no English, and her reaction was delayed, as she listened to the translation. The translator’s words spilled from her headset and she bent forward, as if she’d been punched. She dropped the scarf, and Almira stared up, uncomprehending.
Tuyrsynai rocked back and forth, keening. Almira climbed down and grabbed the headset her mother had dropped. She put the headset on, as if it would help her understand what was making her mother cry.
No longer a cloak, the scarf became a handkerchief, and Tuyrsynai daubed her eyes.
“Mama,” Almira said, looking up, smiling. Her innocence stood in stark, striking contrast to what the jury just decided her brother had done.
Jurors decided that Azamat was part of the conspiracy to move Tsarnaev’s backpack from his dorm room at UMass Dartmouth after the bombings. Even though it was another friend, Dias Kadyrbayev, who actually moved the backpack.
Prosecutors painted Azamat as a willing participant in an attempt to obstruct justice, an offense made even more egregious because he and Kadyrbayev had seen the scenes of carnage left on Boylston Street in the wake of the bombings.
Azamat’s lawyers scoffed at the suggestion he was somehow sympathetic to what Tsarnaev is accused of doing. Instead they described a typical, clueless teenager, a mama’s boy who liked to play soccer and smoke bones, a non-practicing Muslim who disliked Dzhokhar’s brother Tamerlan, the mastermind of the bombings who tried to get Azamat to read extremist Islamic literature.
Long after the verdict, Matthew Myers, one of Azamat’s lawyers, stood outside the courthouse, shaking his head, in utter disbelief that anybody other than an FBI agent or a federal prosecutor would think his client is anything more than just a stupid college kid.
Myers said he knew what kind of pressure the jury was under, just a year after the Marathon bombings. He knows the pressure Judge Douglas Woodlock faces in sentencing Azamat in October. He knows what it’s like after people die as they died in Boston on Patriots Day in 2013.
“I’m from New York,” Matt Myers said. “I know.”
Sadness is what I feel when reading this.
Azamat Tazhayakov, found guilty yesterday of obstruction and conspiracy charges, is the first domino to fall in a series of Boston Marathon bombings trials that could see other defendants flip on accused terrorist Dzhokhar Tsarnaev — and one another — in hopes of saving their own skins, according to legal observers.
Tazhayakov, slated to be sentenced Oct. 16, can agree to help the feds in their cases against his former roommate Dias Kadyrbayev or Tsarnaev in order to reduce his time behind bars, said Brad Bailey, a defense attorney not involved in any of the cases.
“There’s no question that it’s going to have a ripple effect on all of them, and they’re going to have to be thinking about it — particularly Kadyrbayev, whose former girlfriend testified under the grant of immunity and really gave him up in many respects,” Bailey said. “If the lesser case of those two cases results in a guilty (finding), everyone has to be thinking in terms of the ultimate result here.”
Prosecutors said Tazhayakov and Kadyrbayev removed a backpack and laptop from Tsarnaev’s dorm room after they realized he was a suspect in the deadly attacks. Kadyrbayev’s trial will commence in the fall. His lawyers, staring down the barrel of a potential slam-dunk case for the government, may be thinking about a plea deal in which their client spills the beans regarding his alleged conversations with Tsarnaev.
“I think federal prosecutors are hoping that the attorneys for these other defendants will want to come forward with information that will help them in their case against Tsarnaev,” said David Yannetti, a defense attorney also not connected with the cases. “He’s the big fish here, and they’re going to want to get information from every possible source that they can.”
During Tazhayakov’s trial, prosecutors said Tsarnaev was hell bent on dying a martyr who would “go straight to heaven,” according to conversations between the FBI and Tazhayakov. He later told the FBI that Tsarnaev said at a North Dartmouth restaurant that he knew how to build a bomb, prosecutors say.
That type of information, if backed by Tazhayakov at trial, could be used as evidence against Tsarnaev and may convince a jury that he should be put to death if he’s found guilty.
“These are the types of things that can go into pre-planning and state of mind, and they can factor into the case itself and also the aggravating factors the jury has to consider during the sentencing phase,” Bailey said. “The folks controlling the fall of those dominoes is the government. They can do a number of things and work out a number of potential options and see where this goes.”
Mr. Tazhayakov was the first of four friends of the Tsarnaev brothers who faced charges stemming from the marathon investigation. Mr. Kadyrbayev is set to be tried on the same charges in September.
Mr. Tazhayakov nodded and smiled tersely at his family as he entered the courtroom. His little sister, a toddler, was playing and grinning in the bench with their parents. 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 Monday morning.
Q:Is it true that Jahar smiled when he knew about the good deeds that will be done by supporters in his name for his birthday?
I don’t know if it’s true or not, this is the first time I read about it. I believe there’s no way of figuring out if it happened or not. I read about the birthday project a few days ago. Here it is.
Jahar Supporters Initiate Birthday Campaign 2014
This July 22 will be Dzokhar (Jahar) Tsarnaev’s second birthday in prison held in solitary confinement. He will be 21 years old. Since he cannot receive cards, letters, gifts or any other kind of birthday wishes, Amber Bishop from the Free Jahar movement has come up with the perfect way to let him know how much people care about him.
The group is asking people to do magnificent works of charity in Jahar’s name. ”This could mean donating to a charity, taking snacks to your local fire department, handing out balloons to children in the hospital, giving a flower to random passersby, helping someone to their car or carrying their groceries. Mow someone’s lawn for free. Take food to the food pantry. If all you have to offer is prayers, then pray for someone. The sky is the limit when it comes to being kind.”
Amber is creating a scrapbook of everyone’s “amazing deeds” that will be given to his sister, who promised to tell him all about it when she visits him in prison.
“The prosecution contends that Jahar inspires people. Let’s show them how right they are,” writes Amber. “You may be wondering how this campaign “helps” him. Just imagine if when arguing his character at the SAMs hearing and how he could potentially inspire others to continue his work, the defense can produce a book full of heart-felt, charitable deeds that our sweet boy has inspired us to do… He can only do these things through us, so don’t let him down.”
The Tsarnaev family likes charities that feed the hungry. They suggested sending money to the needy in Syria, but they also mentioned that they care deeply about Africa, Palestine, and Pakistan.
“A small act of kindness can go a long way in this world. It can start a chain reaction of good deeds. “I can’t wait to see what you send!” writes Amber. She suggests sending donations in his name, when possible, or letting people know you are doing this deed for Jahar in some way.
A former University of Massachusetts Dartmouth student has been found guilty in federal court of obstruction of justice and conspiring to obstruct justice by hindering the investigation into his college friend, Boston Marathon bombing suspect Dzhokhar Tsarnaev.
Azamat Tazhayakov was convicted by a 12-member jury in US District Court in Boston. The jury had deliberated about 15 hours over three days.
Tazhayakov, 20, faces a maximum 20-year prison sentence on the obstruction of justice charge, and up to five years in prison on the conspiracy charge. Sentencing was set for Oct. 16, US Attorney Carmen Ortiz’s office said.
As the verdict was announced, Tazhayakov’s mother began to weep openly. Her son had a less dramatic response. He was seen at one point lowering his head into his hands, but he appeared stoic at a decision that could send him to prison for years.
Timeline: Three pivotal days in the case of Azamat Tazhayakov
Tazhayakov, a foreign student from the Central Asian nation of Kazakhstan, was convicted of the charges with respect to a backpack containing fireworks, a jar of Vaseline, and a thumb drive that he allegedly helped to take from Tsarnaev’s dorm several days after the April 15, 2013 bombings. A jury found him not guilty of the charges with respect to a laptop computer, which was also taken from the room.
Tazhayakov was charged with conspiring with his off-campus roommate, Dias Kadyrbayev, also a Kazakh, when they entered Tsarnaev’s dorm room on the night of April 18, 2013, hours after the FBI had broadcast photos of the two bombing suspects.
Prosecutors alleged that while Kadyrbayev took the lead in removing Tsarnaev’s backpack and laptop from the dorm room, Tazhayakov knew what was happening and condoned the plan to help protect Tsarnaev.
Defense attorneys argued that Tazhayakov was in the dark about what Kadyrbayev was doing that night, and was cooperative with law enforcement when he was questioned.
During the trial, which began about two weeks ago, prosecutors called on jurors to see Tazhayakov as a college student who didn’t do the right thing when it mattered, even when the full horrors of the Boston Marathon bombing were apparent. They said Tazhayakov could not have been oblivious to the bloody finish line scenes or his friend’s potential involvement.
Interactive: Tsarnaev’s texts with friends
Forensic analysis of Tazhayakov’s laptop and cellphones showed that he accessed videos of the bombing over and over again, prosecutors said, and as early as about 11 p.m. on April 18, 2013 — six hours after the FBI had released photos of the suspected bombers — Tazhayakov was putting Tsarnaev’s name in Internet searches.
That was still two hours before Tsarnaev’s older brother, the other suspect, was shot and killed in a police shootout, and about seven hours before the Tsarnaev brothers’ names were made public by the FBI.
Defense attorneys insisted that Tazhayakov was a sweetly-disposed clueless teenager consumed with playing video games and getting high, someone who never imagined his friend was the bomber.
They went to great lengths to cast their client as likeable, the one who urged Kadyrbayev to turn over additional evidence. The defense team pointed to a friend’s description of Tazhayakov as a “good kid” and a “mama’s boy.”
Tazhayakov is the first of three of Tsarnaev’s friends to go to trial on charges that they interfered with the investigation. Kadyrbayev faces the same charges, and his trial is scheduled for early September. A third friend, Robel Phillipos, is charged with lying to authorities about his whereabouts the night of April 18, when he was allegedly at Tsarnaev’s dorm room when the items were taken.
Another friend of the Tsarnaev brothers, Quincy taxi driver Khairullozon Matanov, also faces charges in a separate case of destroying evidence in the investigation. He allegedly deleted files from his computer, tried to get rid of his cellphones, and lied to investigators about his encounters with the brothers in the days after the bombings. Among those contacts: He allegedly had dinner with the brothers the night of the bombings.
Prosecutors have not alleged that either the college friends or Matanov had any knowledge of the bombings beforehand.
Tsarnaev’s trial is scheduled for November. He and his older brother, Tamerlan, 26, are accused of setting off two pressure-cooker bombs at the Marathon finish line, killing three and injuring more than 260.
Three days later, authorities said, they killed MIT police officer Sean Collier, setting off a manhunt that brought them into Watertown, where Tamerlan Tsarnaev died in a shootout with police and Dzhokhar Tsarnaev was eventually captured. Federal prosecutors are seeking the death penalty against Tsarnaev.