This courtroom sketch of May 1, 2013, by artist Jane Flavell Collins shows defendants Dias Kadyrbayev, left, and Azamat Tazhayakov. / Jane Flavell Collins, AP
BOSTON - FBI access to the cellphone records of an alleged Boston Marathon bomber led to a massive 60-officer siege and the arrests of three college students accused of interfering with the investigation.
That was the story told by FBI Special Agent John Walker on Tuesday at a procedural hearing in the criminal cases against the students, friends of bombing suspect Dzhokhar Tsarnaev.
Walker's testimony shed new light on connections among the friends and the manhunt that brought as many as 200 FBI agents to the Boston area for a nerve-racking week last April.
"We believed there were more people involved" in the bombings, Walker told the court. "We thought there could be possible cells."
Four days after the April 15, 2013, bombings, Tsarnaev, 20, was wanted and remained at large. Walker went to Dartmouth, Mass., to investigate Tsarnaev's ties to the University of Massachusetts-Dartmouth. Interviews with students and phone records pointed to 69 Carriage Drive in New Bedford, Mass., where Dias Kadyrbayev and Azamat Tazhayakov lived in an apartment.
It was a few hours after a shootout with police that left Tamerlan Tsarnaev, 26, dead and his brother on the run. It was a few hours before Dzhokhar Tsarnaev would be caught in Watertown.
Tsarnaev was receiving AT&T bills for four phones at that address. One of the phones had called Russia from near the UMass-Dartmouth campus, which led investigators to think he might be nearby â?? perhaps at his friends' apartment.
"I proceeded with all haste and with blue lights flashing" to where the phones suggested Tsarnaev might be, Walker said.
Soon about 60 officers had the New Bedford home surrounded.
Tsarnaev wasn't inside, but his two friends were, along with Kadyrbayev's girlfriend.
What happened next could affect the outcome of the cases against Tsarnaev's friends. Walker said the FBI had not obtained a search warrant. Agents took the two men from the apartment, handcuffed them and questioned them in unmarked cars, Walker said, before they agreed to go to the State Police barracks for further questioning.
Kadyrbayev's attorney Robert Stahl said that amounted to "uncounseled, unwarranted seizures of these individuals." If the FBI violated the defendants' rights, then their statements, which prosecutors are calling "confessions," could be excluded from their trials.
Walker said that at the time, Tsarnaev was still at large and was believed to be "an enormous threat" who most likely wasn't acting alone. He said Kadyrbayev signed his written consent before agents searched the home for clues.
Walker recalled what he said to the defendants in the unmarked cars.
"I told them, 'This is the biggest thing to ever happen in Massachusetts,'" Walker said. "'You must understand: This is your opportunity to tell the truth. Their friend Tsarnaev's life might be over, he told them, but "'your lives don't have to be over.'"
Kadyrbayev and Tazhayakov were arrested the next day on immigration charges. Both are Kazakh nationals whose visas had expired.
According to the indictment, Kadyrbayev and Tazhayakov tried to protect their friend Tsarnaev by removing from his dorm room a laptop computer and a backpack containing fireworks that had been emptied of their explosive powder. Tsarnaev reportedly called them with the request in the hours after the explosion. Robel Phillipos is charged with lying to investigators.
The hearing began with a significant venue ruling. Defense lawyers argued that their clients could not get a fair trial in Boston, where emotions still run high more than a year after the bombings that killed three people and left more than 260 injured.
But Judge Douglas Woodlock said he will most likely keep the trial in Boston. He expects that Kadyrbayev, Tazhayakov and Phillipos can get a fair trial. Still, he said he'll have prospective jury pools ready to go in Springfield, Mass., just in case "a fair and impartial" jury proves impossible during jury selection in Boston.
He said the process of selecting a jury will be modeled on the one used last summer in the Boston racketeering trial of mob boss James "Whitey" Bulger. Such a process could call as many 400 potential jurors a day for questioning in Boston and another 400 daily in Springfield.
Woodlock is convening several days of pre-trial hearings to consider legal motions in the case and begin evidentiary proceedings, which could include testimony from the defendants.
Woodlock ordered Tazhayakov to stand trial June 30, Kadyrbayev on Sept. 8 and Phillipos on Sept. 29.
The hearing continues Wednesday. If convicted, Kadyrbayev and Tazhayakov could each face as much as 25 years in prison. Phillipos could receive as much as eight years in prison and a $250,000 fine.
Dzhokhar Tsarnaev is awaiting trial.
Copyright 2014USA TODAY
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