Three 19-year-old students of the University of Massachusetts—Dartmouth were charged Wednesday with destroying evidence and lying to help Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, 19, the sole surviving suspect in the April 15 Boston Marathon bombing.
Kazakh citizens Azamat Tazhayakov and Dias Kadyrbayev - who entered the U.S. with student visas - were charged with conspiring to obstruct justice by disposing of a laptop computer and a backpack belonging to Tsarnaev that contained fireworks.
Cambridge, Mass., resident Robel Phillipos, an American citizen, was charged with making false statements to investigators.
If convicted, Tazhayakov and Kadyrbayev, who have been held by immigration officials since April 20, face five years in prison. Phillipos faces eight years behind bars. All three face a $250,000 fine.
When the FBI released photos of the then-unidentified bombing suspects on April 18, Phillipos and Kadyrbayev decided one of the two men photographed looked like their friend, according to an affidavit written by FBI special agent Scott Cieplik. Kadyrbayev text-messaged Tsarnaev to say he looked like the suspect.
"lol," Tsarnaev responded, according to the affidavit, "you better not text me," "come to my room and take whatever you want." Cieplik's affidavit says that, according to Kadyrbayev, the messages were interpreted as a joke.
The three men were let into Tsarnaev's dorm room by his roommate and watched a movie, the court documents say. Kadyrbayev noticed empty fireworks casings in Tsarnaev's backpack and decided to remove the bag, fearing his friend could be involved in the bombing.
That night as Tsarnaev's involvement became clear, the three friends - who had relocated to another apartment - collectively decided to throw away the backpack, and Kadyrbayev placed it in a dumpster.
Tazhayakov told investigators he saw a garbage truck empty the dumpster that contained Tsarnaev's backpack on April 19.
The FBI agent said that the backpack was recovered on April 26 at a New Bedford, Mass., landfill. A homework assignment for a class Tsarnaev was enrolled in was found in the trash.
Phillipos initially played coy with investigators and changed his story about his involvement in going to Tsarnaev's room and disposing of the backpack. During a fourth period of questioning on April 26, he changed his account to one that lined up with what the two other men said.
Dzhokhar Tsarnaev was taken into custody by police on April 19 after a day-long manhunt. His brother and alleged accomplice Tamerlan Tsarnaev, 26, died the night before during a gun fight with police. The surviving bomb suspect faces the death penalty if convicted of federal charges filed last week.