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Friends of accused Boston bomber challenge keeping evidence secret

Defendants Dias Kadyrbayev (L) and Azamat Tazhayakov are pictured in a courtroom sketch, appearing in front of Federal Magistrate Marianne B
Defendants Dias Kadyrbayev (L) and Azamat Tazhayakov are pictured in a courtroom sketch, appearing in front of Federal Magistrate Marianne B

By Daniel Lovering

BOSTON (Reuters) - A lawyer for one of three college friends who allegedly helped to cover the tracks of accused Boston Marathon bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev argued on Tuesday that a judge's order keeping most evidence in the case out of public view was unfair to his client.

An attorney for Azamat Tazhayakov, who is charged with obstruction of justice and conspiracy, said prosecutors had failed to give a specific reason for sealing evidence, other than concerns about pretrial publicity and protecting the litigants.

"The defendants have basically been muzzled," said defense attorney Nicholas Woolridge, while the government has been allowed to "cherry pick" details about evidence discovered in the case.

Tazhayakov and another student, Dias Kadyrbayev, both Kazakh nationals, are accused of removing a backpack containing fireworks casings and a laptop from Tsarnaev's dormitory room at the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth while the FBI was searching for the suspects.

The bag was dropped in a dumpster outside the New Bedford, Massachusetts, apartment where the two lived and investigators later recovered it from a landfill.

The defendants could face 25 years in prison, or deportation, if convicted on charges of obstruction of justice and conspiracy. They have pleaded not guilty.

Woolridge said the case was not like the recent trial of gangster James "Whitey" Bulger, which involved confidential informants and raised concerns about witness intimidation.

But Assistant U.S. Attorney John Capin said lifting the order would be inappropriate as it only limited dissemination of details about the evidence beyond attorneys and litigants in the case.

Robert Stahl, an attorney for Kadyrbayev, said earlier that his client cooperated with investigators from the moment they approached him, turning over Tsarnaev's computer and telling the FBI where it could find the backpack.

A third friend, Robel Phillipos of Cambridge, Massachusetts, has pleaded not guilty to charges of making false statements in a terrorism investigation. He could face 16 years in prison if convicted.

Tsarnaev, 20, is accused of setting off a pair of homemade pressure-cooker bombs at the race's crowded finish line on April 15, killing three people and injuring 264 in one of the worst attacks on U.S. soil since September 11, 2001.

He is also charged in the death of a university police officer from whom he and his older brother, Tamerlan, tried unsuccessfully to steal a gun, according to authorities.

Tamerlan was killed in a late-night gunfight with police in the suburb of Watertown on April 18. Police found Dzhokhar hiding in a boat parked in the backyard of a home after a day-long manhunt.

(Editing by Scott Malone)

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