BOSTON – Two college friends of marathon bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev were sentenced Friday to prison after one tearfully apologized to the residents of Boston for impeding the investigation and the other had a former Massachusetts governor write a letter on his behalf in the hope of getting a lighter punishment.
Azamat Tazhayakov, 21, was sentenced to 3 1/2 years for impeding the investigation into the attack while authorities frantically searched for the bombers. He 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.
Later on Friday, Robel Phillipos was handed a three-year sentence for lying to the FBI about being in Tsarnaev’s dorm room days after the bombings. The judge said Phillipos was to blame for a “substantial diversion” of law enforcement resources.
Prosecutors had asked for a sentence of a little more than five years in prison. Phillipos’ lawyers had asked for two years of home confinement. The sentence ultimately given to Phillipos was the most lenient penalty imposed on the three friends who were charged.
Former Gov. Michael Dukakis, a friend of Phillipos’ family and the 1988 Democratic presidential nominee, wrote a letter of support for him and even testified during his trial.
In his letter to the judge, Dukakis wrote that he “can’t understand why justice would be served by incarcerating him.”
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 them, 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 Friday 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.
The judge 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 offence – 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.
Prosecutors had asked for a four-year sentence.