[Editor’s Note: The following is an account of the plea hearing for a friend of accused Boston Marathon bomber, Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, who federal investigators claim lied to them about his friendship with Tsarnaev.]
A plea hearing took place at 3.00 pm on Wednesday, March 24, for Khairullozhon Matanov before Judge William G. Young. Scott Garland was present for the prosecution and Paul Glickman and two associates for the defense. The defendant entered the courtroom wearing a prison uniform and appearing anxious.
Judge Young questioned the prosecution on sentencing guidelines and showed particular interest in the prosecution’s mention of the consideration of “terrorism enhancement” in relation to the charges against Matanov and also questioned how and to what degree the prosecution believe that Matanov impeded their investigation. Garland cited both money spent in regard to resources and also time spent by investigators in their efforts to substantiate the information provided to them by Matanov. (At one point the judge remarked dryly that although he had no doubt money had been spent he was not so sure on the time aspect!)
The judge then turned his attention to the defendant in this case and had Matanov sit close by and opposite him near the judge’s bench, introducing himself as “Bill Young.” He went on to explain to Matanov that he was going to question him in order to determine why he had decided to change his plea to guilty and that he understood the consequences of such action and requested of Matanov that he “stop him” if there was anything he did not understand.
Judge Young spoke of the plea deal with the government and advised Matanov that he was in no way obligated at this point to uphold the deal, explaining that it was his job as a judge to ensure that Matanov was afforded his right to a fair trial if that was what he so wished. He assured Matanov that he as a judge could not and would not “punish” a defendant for wanting a trial by jury. Young then asked Matanov a series of questions regarding drug and alchohol use and mental health status and the defendant answered “No Sir” quietly to each.
The judge went on to advise Matanov that if he wished he could “make” the government convene a grand jury and that if that grand jury decided not to indict then the same charges could not be brought against him in the future but mentioned that if this case were brought to trial and Matanov were found guilty of all four charges against him by a jury, that he could be sentenced to up to 32 years imprisonment as opposed to the 30 months or less proposed in the plea deal.
The charges brought against Matanov were explained to him at length.
Throughout proceedings the defendant conferred frequently with his defense attorney. Matanov eventually openly admitted in court that his reason for wishing to change his plea had more to do with fearing that should he take his case to trial, he might be convicted regardless of his proclaimed innocence and receive a lengthy sentence, than in his believing he was guilty of any crime.
With the assistance of the court clerk, Matanov then proceeded to submit a guilty plea for consideration. Judge Young said that he would not decide upon whether or not to accept the defendant’s change of plea immediately but that he would come to a decision based in part on the report from the parole board. Matanov and his attorney were instructed to visit that office immediately after the hearing and “while they were in the building” so that the process might begin.
A sentencing hearing was tentatively scheduled for Thursday, 18th June at 2.00 pm.
After the hearing the media clamored to speak with those they had perceived to be friends of the defendant. (He did turn to smile at his friends upon entering the courtroom and again prior to leaving.) Two of his friends spoke with the media on his behalf.
At some points during this hearing it almost seemed as if the judge would have preferred to see this case go to trial rather than be resolved via a plea deal with the government.