To the mounting pile of oddities surrounding the Boston Marathon Bombing—the largest terrorist attack on domestic soil since 9/11—we add yet another: the wide disparities in the government’s treatment of the people associated with the accused bombers, Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, who was convicted and given the death penalty, and his dead elder brother, Tamerlan.

Here’s the odd thing: the more that these people cooperated with the government, the harsher their punishment. Conversely, a few who failed to cooperate with the FBI escaped prosecution entirely.

Officials have made clear that the harsh sentences meted out to most of the Tsarnaev brothers’ former friends were intended to send a message: Do not obstruct terror investigations. Paradoxically, these outcomes may have the opposite effect.

Attorneys following the case say the real message that comes through is this: Cooperate with the government without a lawyer before you are arrested—and you will get jail time. Cooperate after you have been arrested, and either plead the Fifth or speak only with a lawyer present—and you end up with less jail time, if any.

The most striking example of ending up the worse for cooperating is surely Ibragim Todashev, a friend of Tamerlan Tsarnaev, who purportedly had just confessed to some complicity in a separate triple homicide before the FBI shot him seven times—killing him. The cases of others are less dramatic, but no less revealing of a dysfunctional process. Their stories follow.

Crime and Punishment

The full story reads like a 19th-century Russian novel—it can be difficult to keep all the players straight. Here are the particulars on the treatment of each of these tangential figures, arranged by jail time dispensed.

Dias Kadyrbayev—College Friend of Dzhokhar Tsarnaev

Sentence: 6 years

Crime: Obstruction of justice and conspiracy. When the FBI posted pictures of the bombing suspects and asked that people come forward and identify them, Kadyrbayev did not do so. Additionally, he and another friend of Dzhokhar’s, Azamat Tazhayakov, removed from the younger Tsarnaev’s dorm room various belongings of his, including a laptop, thumb drive, bag of marijuana, and a backpack that had contained illegal fireworks.

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