Trial dates set for friends of Boston bomber suspect

BOSTON — A federal judge Tuesday refused to dismiss charges against -- or move the trials for -- the men accused of aiding the escape of Boston Marathon bombing suspect Dzhokhar Tsarnaev.

Kazakh nationals Dias Kadyrbayev and Azamat Tazhayakov face obstruction of justice charges in connection with the investigation that followed the April 15, 2013, marathon bombings that left three dead and more than 260 injured. A third defendant, Robel Phillipos, is charged with lying to investigators.

Judge Douglas Woodlock ordered Tazhayakov to stand trial June 30, Kadyrbayev on Sept. 8, Phillipos on Sept. 29.

Woodlock said it was too soon to consider dropping the charges. "You have to see the evidence," he said, adding that he would not act as a "fact finder" in advance of trial.

According to the indictment, Kadyrbayev and Tazhayakov tried to protect their friend Tsarnaev by removing from his dormitory room a laptop computer and a backpack containing fireworks that had been emptied of their explosive powder. Tsarnaev called them with the request in the hours after the explosion.

Defense lawyers want the trials moved, arguing that the defendants can't get a fair trial in Boston, where emotions still run high over the bombing.

Woodlock said he expects the trials of Tsarnaev's friends will take place in Boston, although he left the door open for a change of venue if impaneling a "fair and impartial jury" proves impossible in the city.

It's not inconceivable," Woodlock said, "that a properly vetted jury will be fair" in Boston. He said he has considered other venues and has made arrangements to assemble prospective jurors for examination not only in Boston but also in Springfield, Mass. He said Springfield is a different media market and might therefore produce a different type of jury.

Still, he said he doesn't think Boston's media coverage of the bombings has been overly prejudicial.

"I don't find it to be the kind of press coverage that on the whole creates presumptions," Woodlock said. If both sides cannot settle on a Boston jury, then the trial could move to Springfield, or possibly even farther away.

"Submissions on the motion to change venue seem to be premature," he said. "The proof of the pudding is in the selection of the jury."

He said the process of selecting a jury will be modeled on the one used last summer in the Boston racketeering trial of mob boss James "Whitey" Bulger. Such a process could bring as many 400 potential jurors in for questioning per day in Boston, and another 400 per day in Springfield.

Woodlock is convening several days of pre-trial hearings to consider legal motions in the case and begin evidentiary proceedings, which could include testimony from the defendants.

Kadyrbayev and Tazhayakov arrived wearing button-down shirts and ties with no jackets. They smiled with their attorneys before court was called to order. Phillipos arrived with his attorneys and appeared relaxed in a suit and tie.


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