Two friends of Boston bomber plead not guilty to cover-up charges

BOSTON (Reuters) - Two college friends of accused Boston Marathon bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev pleaded not guilty on Friday to charges that they helped cover his tracks when the Federal Bureau of Investigation was trying to find the people responsible for the April 15 attack.

The appearance in federal court in Boston of a third man charged in the same case was postponed until later on Friday.

All three are charged with removing a laptop and a backpack containing empty fireworks shells from Tsarnaev's room three days after receiving a text message from him telling them to "go to my room and take what's there", according to court papers.

Dias Kadyrbayev, of Kazakhstan, pleaded not guilty to the charge of obstruction of justice and could face 25 years in prison or deportation. Robel Phillipos, of Cambridge, Massachusetts, pleaded not guilty to charges of lying to investigators and could face up to 16 years in prison.

The third man, Azamat Tazhayakov, also of Kazakhstan, was not present in court due to a train delay that affected his lawyer. He has previously pleaded not guilty to obstruction charges and also could face 25 years in prison or deportation.

None of the men is charged with involvement in the bombing.

Kadyrbayev, who is being held in federal custody, was brought into the courtroom in shackles, wearing an orange prison jumpsuit. Phillipos, who is under house arrest, appeared dressed in a suit and tie.

Prosecutors said they planned to present about 20 witnesses in a trial they estimated would take two weeks.

After the hearing, Phillipos was surrounded by a group of supporters and left court without speaking to the media.

Federal prosecutors said that Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, now 20, and his older brother, Tamerlan, killed three people and injured 264 other with a pair of homemade pressure-cooker bombs at the crowded finish line of the marathon on April 15.

That night, after communicating with the younger Tsarnaev via text message, the three entered Tsarnaev's room and removed evidence, prosecutors said. Kadyrbayev and Tazhayakov later threw out the backpack, while Phillipos lied about his involvement, prosecutors said.

Kadyrbayev's attorney said his client had not intended to obstruct justice and did not understand what Tsarnaev had done.

"There was no criminal intent from him to help Dzhokhar, no obstruction of justice in any way," attorney Robert Stahl told reporters after the hearing.