Today, (Monday, 30th June, 2014), saw the beginning of jury selection in the trial of Azamat Tazhayakov. He is charged with knowingly destroying and concealing evidence and thereby impeding the FBI’s investigation into the bombing of the Boston Marathon. (The said evidence being a backpack containing fireworks emptied of their explosive contents, a jar of vaseline and a homework assignment and also a laptop computer which allegedly belonged to Dzhokhar Tsarnaev. ) Azamat has been detained for 14 months at Essex county jail whilst awaiting trial. The crimes of which he is accused carry a potential sentence of up to 25 years in a federal prison. Judge Douglas Woodlock will preside over this case and the trial is expected to last 2-3 weeks.
It should be noted that one unusual aspect in this case is that the judge has yet to rule on whether Azamat’s statements to the FBI are admissible. ( This was referenced today by David Frank.) Should the judge rule that these statements are not admissible, it is likely that Azamat’s attorneys would file a motion to dismiss. Last week it was claimed by Azamat’s attorneys that a plea deal had been offered and refused. Carmen Ortiz refused to confirm this. The judge has cautioned that this not be mentioned at trial. It has been said that the defendant will likely testify in his own defense.
This morning Azamat was introduced to potential jurors. Of the 225 potential jurors brought into the Federal Courthouse today to fill out questionnaires 100 have already been rejected. Out of these 100 most either claim hardship issues or that they are or were acquainted with one of the survivors or victims of the bombing. Another large group of potential jurors is expected to be brought into the courthouse tomorrow. (Tuesday.) Judge Woodlock has stated that 6 alternate jurors will be selected in addition to 12 regular jurors. The potential jurors have been instructed by the judge not to discuss the case with anyone, to avoid social media and, according to a Steve Cooper tweet, to “change the channel if a Tazhayakov story comes on tv.” The judge emphasized that Azamat is to be “presumed innocent unless proven otherwise.” (A timely statement in my opinion and one it is hoped those jurors will remember!)
Thus far we know that the prosecution are basing their case on “what Tazhayakov knew and when he knew it.” They claim that he watched “video of the bombing” multiple times. (As, I suspect, did many people in the Boston area and beyond.) It was also confirmed today that Bayan Kumiskali, Dias Kadyrbayev’s girlfriend, (or possibly ex-girlfriend given the present circumstances?), will testify against Azamat in exchange for immunity. ( One wonders with what they could have considered charging her in order to assure her testimony for the prosecution?)
The Tazhayakov trial will be most important in that it will serve as an indicator of how other defendants in cases connected to the bombing of the Boston Marathon may fare. Dias Kadyrbayev’s trial is scheduled to begin on 8th September, Robel Phillipos’ on 29th. September and Dzhokhar Tsarnaev’s on 3rd. November. Dias Kadyrbayev is charged similarly to Azamat Tazhayakov and has also been incarcerated for 14 months whilst awaiting trial. He too faces a maximum 25 year sentence if convicted. Robel Phillipos is charged with lying to and misleading the FBI but does not face any charges related to attempted destruction or concealment of evidence. If found guilty of lying to the FBI he faces a maximum 16 year sentence but was released on bond to await trial rather than being incarcerated. (Although he is subject to house arrest and is not permitted to leave his mother’s apartment except for court appearances and any medical appointments.) Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, as we all know, faces 30 charges in relation to the actual bombing, 16 of which carry the potential for the death penalty.
One of the main issues as regards the trials of all charged in relation to the bombing of the Boston Marathon, is whether or not an impartial jury can be found in the Boston area. Jury selection in the case of Azamat should at least partially answer this question. David Frank referenced this today in a tweet which read, “Tazhayakov’s change of venue motion denied this spring. He’ll undoubtedly readdress issue this week if fair/impartial jury can not be found.” This could impact the change of venue question for Dias Kadyrbayev, Robel Phillipos and particularly Dzhokhar Tsarnaev. Is it possible that ultimately none of these trials will remain in Boston? It would seem that although this is expected it is by no means a certainty.
As has been discussed previously on these threads, the main stream media’s biased coverage of the cases of these four defendants must undeniably have had a massive impact on most, if not all potential jurors. The presumption of guilt promoted by the media has been, (and still is), unprecedented. It has to be wondered what factors which should not influence the outcome of this trial will nevertheless do so. (Apart that is, from the already mentioned media coverage !) The presiding judge is certainly one factor. Whilst judges are supposed to be impartial I would suggest that in practical terms this is not always the case. ( Judge O’Toole in the case of Dzhokhar Tsarnaev is but one example.) Azamat Tazhayakov’s family have been able to hire their own attorney rather than relying on a public defender. Is this in any way to his advantage? Will jurors be able to see Azamat’s case as the separate case it is and should be, or will “guilt by association” play a role due to his known friendship with Dzhokhar Tsarnaev? Islamophobia may also be, (and most likely will be), an issue. Would jurors see Azamat differently if he was simply not Muslim, or if he was of the Christian religion? Probably.
My personal opinion is that Azamat (and also Dias and Robel), most likely thought that their friend Dzhokhar had mistakenly been identified as a suspect in the bombing. I believe they may have sought to get rid of or hide items which they thought might further incriminate him. If this is the case then the worst they are guilty of is poor judgement. ( Such as you might expect of 18 and 19 year old boys.) Even if I am wrong and they are guilty as charged the lengthy sentences proposed are in no way commensurate with such crimes. Justice would not be served and no good would result from such an outcome. This is in my opinion the latest example of the overly zealous prosecution tactics employed by the MA USDA Carmen Ortiz.
Undoubtedly we will learn much more over the next 2-3 weeks as Azamat’s trial proceeds. I am expecting, (and hoping), that what we may learn in just the next three days will take the conversation on this thread far beyond the few issues I have outlined.