Prosecutors say friend wanted to help accused Boston bomber

BOSTON (Reuters) - United States prosecutors said on Wednesday that a friend of the accused Boston Marathon bomber charged with obstructing justice by removing evidence from the suspect's dorm room did so to protect his friend during an FBI manhunt.

The defendant, Kazakh exchange student Azamat Tazhayakov, is charged with accompanying two friends to Dzhokhar Tsarnaev's dorm room three days after the April 15, 2013, attack that killed three people and injured 264 and removing a laptop computer and backpack containing empty fireworks shells.

The visit occurred hours after the FBI released photos of Tsarnaev and his older brother at the site of the bombing and asked for the public's help in learning their identities, said Assistant US Attorney John Capin in closing arguments at US District Court in Boston. "By the time the FBI searched the Tsarnaev dorm room, which was one of the first things they did when they identified Mr. Tsarnaev as a suspect in this investigation, it was too late," Mr Capin said. "Why did he do these things? He did these things to protect his friend, Dzhokhar Tsarnaev."

Tazhayakov, now 20, and his roommate, Dias Kadyrbayev, decided later that night to throw away the backpack after growing concerned their friend Tsarnaev was a suspect in the investigation, contend prosecutors, who charged them with obstruction of justice and conspiracy.

Attorneys for Tazhayakov, who are due to make their closing statements later on Wednesday, contend their client never touched the laptop or the backpack. They said he accompanied Kadyrbayev to the room at the University of Massachusetts at Dartmouth on April 18, 2013, and that the primary focus of Kadyrbayev's search was a bag of marijuana.

During six days of testimony at Tazhayakov's trial, jurors heard FBI agents testify that Tazhayakov admitted taking the backpack and later watching as a garbage truck hauled away the contents of a dumpster in which it had been dropped.

But they also saw a videotaped deposition of Kadyrbayev's girlfriend, who has not been charged, in which she said she told Kadyrbayev to "get it out" of his apartment in New Bedford, Massachusetts, about 80km south of Boston.

Tazhayakov could face up to 25 years in prison if convicted of obstruction of justice and conspiracy. Kadyrbayev is awaiting trial on the same charges later this year.

Both men were arrested on immigration charges on April 20, 2013, and have since been in federal custody.

The third friend, Robel Phillipos of Cambridge, Massachusetts, is accused of the lesser charge of lying to investigators.

The three men are not charged with any role in the bombing.

Tsarnaev's older brother, Tamerlan, died after a gun battle with police days after the bombing. The surviving brother is awaiting trial on charges that carry the death penalty.