BOSTON (AP) – A college friend of marathon bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev was sentenced Friday to 3 1/2 years in prison after he tearfully apologized to the residents of Boston for impeding the investigation into the attack while authorities frantically searched for the suspects.
Azamat Tazhayakov, 21, was convicted of conspiracy and obstruction of justice for agreeing with another friend to remove Tsarnaev’s backpack from his dorm room at the University of Massachusetts-Dartmouth. The backpack contained fireworks that had been emptied of their explosive powder.
The bombings on April 15, 2013, killed three people and injured more than 260. Tsarnaev is awaiting formal sentencing after a jury condemned him to die for committing the attack with his now-dead older brother, Tamerlan.
Tazhayakov and two other men went to Tsarnaev’s dorm room three days after the bombings, hours after the FBI released photos of the Tsarnaev brothers as suspects in the bombings.
One of the men, Dias Kadyrbayev, was sentenced this week to six years in prison for removing Tsarnaev’s backpack from the room and tossing it in a dumpster. He was also convicted of taking Tsarnaev’s laptop.
Tazhayakov was found guilty of agreeing with Kadyrbayev to take the backpack and throw it away.
“I apologize to the people of Boston for what I did,” Tazhayakov said before he was sentenced.
He also denounced Tsarnaev’s actions.
“I want to say that I don’t support an extremist. I don’t support any Muslim radicalization,” he said. “It just makes me sick what Dzhokhar did on April 15.”
None of Tsarnaev’s friends were accused of knowing about the bombings ahead of time.
Judge Douglas Woodlock said their crimes were still severe because they impeded an investigation into a terror attack at a time when investigators were trying to determine the identities of the bombers. Hours later, the Tsarnaev brothers fatally shot Massachusetts Institute of Technology police Officer Sean Collier and had a wild shootout with police in Watertown. Tamerlan Tsarnaev died following the gunbattle.
“There is no question that this was a very serious offense – the failure to act properly when confronted with the devastating event,” Woodlock said.
Tazhayakov will receive credit for the more than two years he has already spent in jail. His lawyer said he expects him to finish his sentence nine months to a year. After that, he will be deported to his native Kazakhstan.
David Archibald, one of the jurors who convicted Tazhayakov, attended the sentencing hearing and afterward said he believes Tazhayakov “got off easy.” Archibald said he believes Tazhayakov might have prevented Collier’s death if he had reported Tsarnaev to authorities immediately.
“If he spoke up, the FBI would have had a good idea who they were looking for,” he said.
Tazhayakov’s father, Amir Ismagulov, said the 3 ½-year sentence is “very, very stiff.”
“He’s really sorry he did something to impede the investigation,” he said.
Prosecutors had asked for a four-year sentence.
Assistant U.S. Attorney John Capin said Tazhayakov should be given credit for cooperating with authorities. After his trial, he testified against a third friend – Robel Phillipos – and agreed to testify against Tsarnaev. Prosecutors did not end up calling him as a witness at Tsarnaev’s trial.
Capin also acknowledged that Tazhayakov did not physically remove the backpack or throw it away – Kadyrbayev did that.
But he said Tazhayakov should have called authorities immediately after he recognized Tsarnaev in the photos. About a month before the bombings, Tsarnaev told Tazhayakov that he viewed dying as a martyr to be “a virtuous thing,” Capin said. In that same conversation, Tsarnaev told Tazhayakov he knew how to make bombs using explosive powder.
“At no point did the defendant notify law enforcement of what he knew,” Capin said.
Phillipos was convicted of lying to the FBI about being in Tsarnaev’s dorm room when the items were removed. Prosecutors plan to ask for a little over five years in prison when he is sentenced later Friday.
Former Massachusetts Gov. Michael Dukakis, a friend of Phillipos’ family, wrote a letter of support for him and even testified during his trial.
In the letter to the judge, Dukakis wrote that he “can’t understand why justice would be served by incarcerating him.”