On Tuesday, March 24, 2015, a terribly sad and terrified looking 24 year old Khairullozhon Matanov entered a “guilty” plea to accusations that he had lied to the FBI about the extent of his friendship with Tamerlan and Jahar Tsarnaev. He had also deleted his search history from his computer, knowing that the FBI would soon be visiting. Because his lies and deletions were irrelevant to the Boston bombing investigation - he had lied about things like whether or not he ran into the brothers at a local halal restaurant, or if he drove them there, and everything he deleted was public information - he had long maintained his innocence of any criminal action. He had lied out of nervousness, not out of a desire to impede the bombing investigation; in fact he was the first person to go to the police to identify the brothers when their photos came on TV.
“I know who they are, but I don’t think they did it,” he told the police.
The tragedy of this case is that hundreds of people knew who those brothers were, but they did not say anything. And none of them are being prosecuted. This should tell us that it is always a bad idea to cooperate with any FBI request, even if you sincerely want to be helpful.
At the first hearing I attended for the young Matanov last year, the government had made many insinuations about his many generous wire transfers overseas to his family, “wondering” if he was funding terrorists. But since then all these transfers have apparently been accounted for, so the government was left with nothing but the obstruction of justice charges, which the judge himself noted were immaterial. The slimy government prosecutor made up for this by threatening “terrorism enhancements,” which could bring his maximum sentence from 20 years to 37!
Judge Young took a lot of time speaking directly to Matanov, making sure he understood the charges, that he understood that he is considered innocent until proven guilty, that he has a right to a trial, that he understood what he was agreeing to and what he was giving up by pleading guilty. It sounded like the judge was trying to talk him out of it. Matanov hesitated many times, consulting with his lawyer, before he went through with it, while wiping tears from his eyes.
He told the judge he felt he was innocent but he didn't want to go to trial and risk spending decades in prison, so he was accepting the deal. He really didn't want to plead guilty. He had written me in many letters how much pressure he was under. The government wanted him to work as an informant and told him they would let him go free today if he would agree. He refused. Then they said they would reduce his sentence to 7 years if he pled guilty. He refused. He wrote to me that his father was an honorable man and his grandfather was an honorable man and he would never plead guilty. However, during a prison visit he sadly told me that there are “very powerful people” putting a lot of pressure on his lawyer and he felt he had no other choice. It is still up in the air whether or not he will be deported after serving his 30 months prison time and 3 years probation.
Matanov is quite nervous about where they are going to send him. He had been beaten by guards playing the National Anthem, while being held at Plymouth County Correctional Facility. Activism from supporters resulted in him getting transferred to the much quieter pre-trial Donald Wyatt Detention Center in Rhode Island. He is no longer being beaten, but is being kept permanently in “the hole.” He is being treated differently than all the other prisoners. No one else gets put in “the hole” unless they cause trouble. He is being kept in isolation and even during the one hour of rec time per day, he is separated from the other prisoners by a fence. He said most of them are Latino. They are all allowed to talk to their families through glass, but he is forced to talk on a video monitor, which is very low quality and the sound crackles so bad you can’t hear. What is strange is that Stephen Silva, the Tsarnaev friend who was caught dealing heroin and admitted that he gave them a gun, is being kept in general population at the same prison, but Matanov, who is only guilty of paying for dinner, is being treated like a terrorist, maybe because he is Muslim. Matanov said the prison says they are isolating him for his own protection.
After he is sentenced, he will be moved to another prison. He was visibly nervous about this unknown, when I visited him earlier this month.
The judge has until the next hearing, June 18, to decide if he will accept the plea deal or reject it. If he rejects it, the case will go to trial and Matanov will again be presumed innocent, Judge Young said. Young told Matanov that if found guilty, he could sentence him to even less than 30 months. However, he could also choose to accept the government’s terrorism enhanced sentencing guidelines. What a totally confusing and horrible choice to have to make.