BOSTON (AP) — A college friend of Boston Marathon bombing suspect Dzhokhar Tsarnaev pleaded guilty Thursday to impeding the investigation by removing incriminating evidence from Tsarnaev’s dorm room several days after the deadly attack.
Dias Kadyrbayev, 20, admitted in federal court that he removed Tsarnaev’s laptop computer and a backpack containing fireworks that had been emptied of their explosive powder from Tsarnaev’s room at the University of Massachusetts-Dartmouth.
Twin bombs placed near the finish line of the 2013 marathon killed three people and injured more than 260.
Under a plea agreement, federal prosecutors said they would ask for no more than seven years in prison. The agreement allows his lawyer to argue for a lesser sentence. Kadyrbayev also agreed not to fight deportation after he completes his prison sentence.
U.S. District Judge Douglas Woodlock set sentencing for Nov. 18 but did not immediately accept the plea agreement, saying he first wanted to review a report that will be prepared by the probation department.
Kadyrbayev’s decision to plead guilty came just two weeks before he was scheduled to go on trial and a month after his friend and co-conspirator, Azamat Tazhayakov, was convicted of identical charges by a jury.
During Tazhayakov’s trial, prosecutors described Kadyrbayev as the leader in the decision to remove the items, but said Tazhayakov agreed with the plan. They said Kadyrbayev was the one who actually threw away the backpack and fireworks, which were later recovered in a landfill.
Kadyrbayev’s lawyer, Robert Stahl, said his client made a “terrible error in judgment that he’s paying for dearly.”
Stahl emphasized that Kadyrbayev — a native of Kazakhstan who came to the U.S. in 2011 on a student visa — “had absolutely no knowledge” that Tsarnaev and his brother, Tamerlan Tsarnaev, were planning to bomb the marathon and was “shocked and horrified” when he learned they were suspects.
He said Kadyrbayev, who was 19 at the time, “now understands he never should have gone to that dorm room, and he never should have taken any items from that room.”
His plea agreement with prosecutors does not make any mention of him agreeing to testify against a third friend who was also charged. Robel Phillipos, of Cambridge, is accused of lying to investigators about being present when Kadyrbayev took the items from Tsarnaev’s room. Phillipos is scheduled to go on trial next month.
Typically, plea agreements describe whether defendants have given substantial assistance to prosecutors and have agreed to testify against co-defendants.
The backpack, fireworks and laptop were taken from Tsarnaev’s room hours after the FBI publicly released photographs and videos of Tsarnaev and his brother as suspects in the bombing.
Prosecutors said Kadyrbayev exchanged text messages with Tsarnaev after seeing the photos, and Tsarnaev told him he could go to his dorm room and “take what’s there.”
Prosecutors said the fireworks had been emptied of explosive powder that can be used to make bombs.
Tamerlan Tsarnaev was killed in a shootout with police several days after the bombings. Dzhokhar Tsarnaev has pleaded not guilty to 30 federal charges and faces the possibility of the death penalty if convicted. His trial is scheduled to begin in November.