Friends of accused Boston bomber to face June coverup trial

BOSTON (REUTERS) - Three college friends of accused Boston Marathon bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev will go on trial in June on charges they helped hide his tracks from the FBI, a United States (US) judge ruled on Wednesday.

US District Judge Douglas Woodlock denied a joint request by prosecutors and two of the defendants - Mr Dias Kadyrbayev of Kazakhstan and Mr Robel Phillipos of Cambridge, Massachusetts - to put the trial off until early next year to give defence attorneys more time to sort through millions of pages of evidence surrounding the bombing investigation.

The judge ruled their trial in Boston federal court would begin on June 23, even earlier than the July start that third defendant Azamat Tazhayakov, also of Kazakhstan, had requested.

"We'll get to this quite promptly," Judge Woodlock said at a pre-trial hearing. "The issues that are involved here have to deal with something very specific."

Prosecutors contend that the three defendants, college friends of Tsarnaev, went to his dorm room at his request three days after the April 15 bombing - after the Federal Bureau of Investigation released pictures of Tsarnaev and his older brother, identifying them as suspects - and removed a laptop and backpack containing empty fireworks shells.

Mr Kadyrbayev and Mr Tazhayakov, both exchange students, face obstruction of justice charges and, if convicted, could face 25 years in prison or deportation. Mr Phillipos has been charged with lying to investigators and could face up to 16 years in prison.

All three have pleaded not guilty.

Three people died and 264 were injured when twin homemade pressure-cooker bombs went off at the crowded finish line of the race, in the worst mass-casualty attack on US soil since the Sept 11, 2001, attacks. Prosecutors contend that Tsarnaev, 20, and his 26-year-old brother Tamerlan went on to kill a university police officer on April 18 as they prepared to flee the city.

Tamerlan died later that night when Dzhokhar ran him over with a stolen car while fleeing a gun battle with police, prosecutors said.

An attorney for Mr Kadyrbayev argued that the defence had needed more time to review large amounts of evidence, some related to the Tsarnaev case, to prepare for the friends' trial.

"I would be remiss if I didn't review things because what I don't know is what comes back and hurts me," said attorney Robert Stahl. "We have one chance and it has to be done right."

Judge Woodlock rejected that argument.

"People can use some judgment," the judge said. "I don't buy into the idea that when the government dumps a lot of stuff on you that imposes an obligation on you to spend endless hours reviewing everything."

Tazhayakov's father, Mr Amir Ismagulov, who has been living in the United States since his son's arrest, welcomed the news of the June trial date.

"This is our first victory today in this case and we feel it is a great victory because the judge made that decision to give our boys less time before they will be able to lay out their truth," Mr Ismagulov told reporters, speaking through his attorney who acted as a translator.

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