BOSTON: Two college friends of accused Boston Marathon bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev pleaded not guilty on Friday to charges that they helped cover his tracks when the FBI was trying to find the people responsible for the April 15 attack.
The appearance in federal court in Boston of a third man charged in the same case was postponed until later on Friday. All three are charged with going to Tsarnaev's dorm room three days after the bombing, where they removed a laptop and a backpack containing empty fireworks shells after receiving a text message from him telling them to "go to my room and take what's there," according to court papers.
Dias Kadyrbayev, of Kazakhstan, pleaded not guilty to the charge of obstruction of justice and could face 25 years in prison or deportation. His lawyer, Robert Stahl, said after the hearing that Kadyrbayev did not understand what Tsarnaev had done.
"There was no criminal intent from him to help Dzhokhar, no obstruction of justice in any way," Stahl told reporters.
Robel Phillipos, of Cambridge, Massachusetts, pleaded not guilty to charges of lying to investigators and could face up to 16 years in prison. Lawyers and supporters of Phillipos ushered him out of the courthouse and into a waiting black sports utility vehicle.
His lawyers said in a statement that Phillipos "had nothing to do whatsoever with the Boston Marathon bombing or destroying any evidence afterwards ... in the end, it will be clear that this prosecution should never have been brought in the first place."
The third man, Azamat Tazhayakov, also of Kazakhstan, was not present in court due to a train delay that affected his lawyer. He has previously pleaded not guilty to obstruction charges and also could face 25 years in prison or deportation.
None of the men is charged with involvement in the bombing.
Kadyrbayev, who is being held in federal custody, was brought into the courtroom in shackles, wearing an orange prison jumpsuit. Phillipos, who is under house arrest, appeared dressed in a suit and tie.
Prosecutors said they planned to present about 20 witnesses in a trial they estimated would take two weeks.
Federal prosecutors said that Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, now 20, and his older brother, Tamerlan, killed three people and injured 264 others with a pair of homemade pressure-cooker bombs at the crowded finish line of the marathon on April 15.
Three days later, after the FBI released pictures of the duo, then known only as suspects 1 and 2, standing near the finish line and asked the public for help in identifying them.
On the night of April 18, after communicating with the younger Tsarnaev via text message, the three college friends entered Tsarnaev's room and removed evidence, prosecutors said. Kadyrbayev and Tazhayakov later threw out the backpack, while Phillipos lied about his involvement, prosecutors said.
Later that night, the Tsarnaev brothers went on to shoot and kill a university police officer, prosecutors charge, before engaging in a gun battle with police in Watertown, Massachusetts, that ended when Dzhokhar fled, running over his 26-year-old brother in the process.
Tamerlan Tsarnaev died of his injuries, while Dzhokhar evaded arrest for most of a day, leading to a lockdown of much of the greater Boston area. Dzhokhar, badly wounded, was found hiding in a boat in a backyard the evening of April 19.
He has been charged with crimes that carry the possibility of the death penalty.