A federal judge has set a June trial date for the three ex-students accused of obstructing investigations in the case against their college friend, alleged Boston Marathon bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev. The summer trial date is significantly earlier than the 2015 date two of the defendants’ attorneys had wanted.
The trial will begin on June 23. Lawyers for two of the friends, Dias Kadyrbayev and Robel Phillipos, had pushed for the trial to start next January; the attorneys representing Azamat Tazhayakov, the third friend, had asked for a date in mid-July.
“We have one chance, and it has to be done right,” said Robert Stahl, a lawyer for Mr. Kadyrbayev. Preparing for a June trial date would be a "herculean task."
US District Court Judge Douglas Woodlock concluded that delaying the trial past early summer would violate the defendants’ right to a speedy trial. He also said that the trial should be kept "focused," rejecting the defense attorneys' contention that more time is needed to thoroughly analyze piles of electronic material.
Kadyrbayev and Mr. Tazhayakov are accused of removing a laptop and a backpack containing fireworks from Mr. Tsarnaev's dorm room on April 18 after seeing news reports that identified their college friend as a suspect in the attacks three days earlier. Tsarnaev also sent a text to Kadyrbayev that said: “If yu want yu can go to my room and take what's there.”
Later that evening, Kadyrbayev put the backpack into a dumpster outside his apartment, authorities say. It took investigators two days of hunting in the New Bedford landfill to find the backpack, its contents intact. Phillipos is accused of lying to investigators when interviewed about the case. He told them that he had not seen anyone take the backpack out of the room, according to authorities.
Kadyrbayev and Tazhayakov, both Kazak citizens, are charged with conspiracy to obstruct justice and obstruction of justice. The charges carry possible prison sentences of up to 25 years, as well as deportation back to Kazakhstan. Phillipos, an American, could be sentenced to up to 16 years in prison for two counts of lying to investigators.
The decision comes two days after US District Court Judge George O’Toole Jr. agreed to give Tsarnaev’s defense team more time before deciding whether to request a change of location for the trial. The previous deadline had been Feb. 28; no new date was set.
The filing did not give a reason for the change of date, but the measure appeared to heed the defense’s contention that it should be given until after US Attorney General Eric Holder decides whether the government will seek the death penalty in the case.
Mr. Holder is expected to announce before the end of the month if the government will pursue a death sentence.
Tsarnaev is facing 30 federal charges in connection to the bombing at the Boston Marathon on April 15 as well as the murder of a Massachusetts Institute of Technology police officer three days later. He has pleaded not guilty to all the charges.