By Scott Malone
BOSTON (Reuters) - Three college friends of accused Boston Marathon bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev were due in court on Friday to answer charges that they helped cover his tracks when the FBI was trying to find the people responsible for the April 15 attack.
The men, two exchange students from Kazakhstan and one from the Boston area, are charged with removing a laptop and a backpack containing empty fireworks shells from Tsarnaev's room three days 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 and Azamat Tazhayakov, both from Kazakhstan, both face the charges of obstruction of justice and could face 25 years in prison or deportation. Robel Phillipos, of Cambridge, Massachusetts, has been charged with lying to investigators and could face up to 16 years in prison.
None of the men is charged with involvement in the bombing and at an appearance on August 13 in federal court in Boston, Kadyrbayev and Tazhayakov pleaded not guilty to all charges. Phillipos has not yet entered a plea.
Federal prosecutors said that Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, now 20, and his older brother, Tamerlan, killed three people and injured 264 other 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.
That night, after communicating with the younger Tsarnaev via text message, the three 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.
The two Tsarnaevs later that night 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. (Editing by Grant McCool)