Kazakhstan: For Boston Bomber's Alleged Helpers, Will Punishment Fit Crime?
A former lawyer for one of the two students from Kazakhstan implicated in the Boston Marathon bombing has published an impassioned plea for leniency, arguing that the prospect of 25 years in prison for the two teens for exercising “world-class bad judgment under the worst of possible scenarios” would be too harsh a punishment.
Azamat Tazhayakov and Dias Kadyrbayev, both from Kazakhstan, allegedly took and dumped a backpack with emptied fireworks from Dzhokar Tsarnaev’s dorm room after seeing their friend named as a suspect on TV several days after the bombings. On August 13, Tazhayakov and Kadyrbayev entered a plea of “not guilty” on charges of conspiracy to obstruct justice and obstruction of justice in Boston’s Federal District Court.
In a commentary for Slate, Harlan Protass, Tazhayakov’s former lawyer, argues that locking up two 19-year-olds till they’ve reached their 30’s or 40’s is not the best way to prevent future tampering with evidence by others. That may be a bit inside baseball if you don’t live in the United States, since it plays into broader American debates about sentencing and prison reform, as well as the power of federal prosecutors.
But it highlights what the defendants are up against: for instance, the sentiment expressed by former New York Mayor Rudolph Giuliani that “because Kadyrbayev and Tazhayakov didn’t go to the police after they figured out Tsarnaev was one of the alleged bombers, [federal prosecutor Carmen] Ortiz should hold them accountable for the murder of MIT police officer Sean Collier,” who was allegedly shot by Tsarnaev and his brother after the bombing.
Protass notes that Ortiz has been challenged by judges in the past – with one calling her charges “overkill” and “improvident” – and characterizes her as the kind of overzealous prosecutor who will pursue the harshest possible sentence in any case. That’s particularly true now, with a grieving community demanding she “go after Kadyrbayev and Tazhayakov with everything she’s got,” Protass writes. Three were killed and almost 200 injured in the April 15 bombing during one of Boston’s favorite annual traditions.
According to numerous news reports, the Kazakh students also took – and eventually turned over to police – a laptop that belonged to Tsarnaev, and they cooperated when questioned, allowing authorities to recover the backpack with the fireworks they had thrown out. “Surely, their cooperation should count for something,” Protass concludes. “Two young and immature college students from Kazakhstan unfamiliar with the American criminal justice system allegedly exercised world-class bad judgment under the worst of possible scenarios. Lengthy prison terms just don’t ‘fairly represent’ what they did.”
Moreover, for many young people in the former Soviet Union, where authorities often seem to violate as many laws as they uphold, loyalty to a friend may be perceived as a far greater virtue than loyalty to the state.
At home in Kazakhstan, where conspiracy theories run rife, some have expressed doubts about the Boston prosecutor’s motivations.
In a statement to journalists made after their not guilty plea was entered on August 13, Tazhayakov’s father, Amir Ismagulov, said through an interpreter, “The entire family feels that the government is scapegoating them because they are Muslims and foreign students.”
A pre-trial hearing is scheduled for September 26.
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