By Scott Malone
BOSTON (Reuters) - A citizen of Kyrgyzstan who was friends with the Boston Marathon bombers is due to be sentenced to two-and-a-half years in federal prison on Thursday for lying to investigators probing the deadly 2013 attack.
Cab driver Khairullozhon Matanov is the fourth person connected to ethic Chechen brothers Dzhokhar and Tamerlan Tsarnaev to face jail time for misleading investigators during the massive search for the men who killed three people and injured 264 with a pair of homemade pressure-cooker bombs.
Matanov's case dates back to the morning of April 19, 2013, when he went to a police station in Braintree, Massachusetts, south of Boston, to say that he recognized the Tsarnaevs in surveillance photos the FBI had released the night before.
Matanov was not accused of playing any role in the attack. He pleaded guilty in March to lying to investigators about how well he knew the Tsarnaevs, including the fact that he bought the brothers dinner hours after the bombings. Matanov said he was unaware of their role in the attack during the meal.
"At the time of these offenses, Mr. Matanov was a scared young man. He was not, and is not, a terrorist," his lawyers wrote in a court filing endorsing the 30-month sentence agreed to as part of his plea deal.
Absent a plea, Matanov, who was arrested in May 2014, could have faced as much as 20 years in prison.
Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, 21, was convicted in April of carrying out the bombing and shooting dead a police officer. He is due to be formally sentenced to death next week. Tamerlan, who had been 26 at the time of the attack, died after Dzhokhar inadvertently ran him over with a stolen car following a gunfight with police hours before Matanov's visit to the police station.
Three college friends of the younger Tsarnaev, Kazakh exchange students Dias Kadyrbayev and Azamat Tazhayakov, as well as Robel Phillipos of Cambridge, Massachusetts, earlier this month were handed sentences ranging from three to six years in prison for interfering with the investigation.
The trio removed a backpack containing empty fireworks shells from Tsarnaev's college dorm room and brought it to a New Bedford, Massachusetts, apartment three days after the bombing.
"Whereas the New Bedford defendants' crimes concerned evidence that was potentially critical in the case against Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, Mr. Matanov's crime largely obstructed inquiry into his ties to the Tsarnaevs," federal prosecutors wrote in a filing supporting the 30-month sentence.
(Reporting by Scott Malone; Editing by Lisa Shumaker)