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Judge finds accused Boston bomber friend's words to FBI voluntary

By Scott Malone

BOSTON (Reuters) - A friend of the accused Boston Marathon bombing suspect did not speak involuntarily when telling FBI agents about the removal of a laptop and backpack from the suspect's room and his statements are admissible as evidence, a U.S. judge said on Tuesday.

Lawyers for Kazakh exchange student Azamat Tazhayakov had argued against admission of the comments he made during an hours-long interview that began when more than 50 heavily armed agents raided his apartment four days after the deadly blasts and continued into the next morning. Tazhayakov's attorneys said he did not feel free to leave during the interrogation.

During six days of testimony at Tazhayakov's trial on obstruction of justice charges, FBI agents said he and roommate Dias Kadyrbayev admitted to taking the laptop and backpack from bombing suspect Dzhokhar Tsarnaev's dorm room at the University of Massachusetts at Dartmouth.

Tazhayakov spoke to the FBI for hours beginning the night of April 19, 2013, following the raid, into the predawn hours of April 20.

"While it may have been improvident, it was not involuntary," U.S. District Judge Douglas Woodlock said on Tuesday at a final hearing in Tazyahaykov's trial before closing statements are delivered on Wednesday and jury deliberations begin.

Woodlock cited testimony that Tazhayakov had asked to leave the police barracks where he was being interrogated and was told there was a cab waiting outside, but chose instead to allow the FBI to drive him home.

"Testimony is that he was told he could leave," Woodlock said. "He was offered an alternative and decided not to take it."

Woodlock had declined to rule on the admissibility of Tazhayakov's words during the FBI interview ahead of trial but had warned prosecutors that he would declare a mistrial if he found them to be involuntary.

Tazhayakov, 20, who did not testify in the trial, has been charged with obstruction of justice and conspiracy, as has fellow Kazakh exchange student Dias Kadyrbayev, who will be tried later this year. A third friend who went with them to the dorm room, Robel Phillipos of Cambridge, Massachusetts, faces the lesser charge of lying to investigators.

The three were caught up in a manhunt for Tsarnaev three days after the bombing, which killed three people and injured 264, when the FBI released photos of two men it suspected of carrying out the attack in hopes of getting the public's help in identifying them.

Prosecutors contend that Tazhayakov, Kadyrbayev and Phillipos recognized Tsarnaev and his older brother, Tamerlan, and went to the dorm room after receiving a text message encouraging them to take anything they wanted.

None of the three are charged with playing a role in the largest mass-casualty attack on U.S. soil since Sept. 11, 2001.

The elder Tsarnaev brother died after a gun battle with police on April 13, 2013. Dzhokhar Tsarnaev is awaiting trial on charges that carry the death penalty.

(Reporting by Scott Malone; Editing by Bill Trott)

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