This week in Boston, the trial of Robel Phillipos, a friend of Boston Marathon bombing suspect Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, will begin. Phillipos is charged with lying to authorities about where he was and what he knew in the days after the bombing.
Three days after the Boston Marathon bombings, three of suspect Dzhokhar Tsarnaev’s friends went to Tsarnaev’s University of Massachusetts at Dartmouth dorm room and removed a backpack that contained empty fireworks shells. In addition to defendant Phillipos, the other two friends were Azamat Tazhayakov, who was found guilty of obstruction of justice for retrieving the backpack and throwing it in a dumpster, and Dias Kadyrbayev, who pleaded guilty to similar charges. Tazhayakov is scheduled to be sentenced this month and faces up to 25 years in prison. Kadyrbayev is scheduled to be sentenced in November and the U.S. Attorney has recommended a sentence of seven years in prison.
In opening statements, Phillipos’ defense attorney, Derege Demissie, stated that Phillipos originally told authorities that on April 18, 2013, the day in question, he smoked marijuana so his mind was rather “jumbled,” and, as a result, he did not remember going to the dorm room or any of the alleged activities that took place. Demissie said he will present evidence that shows Phillipos was “high out of his mind” on the day in question, including testimony from individuals who were with him when he smoked marijuana using a vaporizer and individuals who were with him when he smoked marijuana inside a car. Phillipos’ attorney stated that it was after “coercion by agents” that Phillipos broke down in tears and admitted that he saw evidence being removed from Tsarnaev’s dorm room. Demissie asserts that Phillipos did not lie to investigators and never asked for an attorney, despite being extremely frightened during the interview process.
By contrast, John Capin, Assistant U.S. Attorney, said in his opening statements at trial that Phillipos did lie and did so repeatedly, even telling investigators at one point that he was not even on the campus at the time that the items were removed. Capin argued that Phillipos also lied when he said he did not remember being in his friend’s dorm room and when he said he did not see any of the incriminating items being removed from the Boston Marathon bombing suspect’s room.
Phillipos knew Tsarnaev before the two were classmates at University of Massachusetts at Dartmouth, having attended high school at Latin High School together. Demissie argued that Phillipos was simply in the wrong place at the wrong time and should not have his future ruined by this one incident. His attorney went on to state that Phillipos is the son of an Ethiopian mother who works as a domestic violence specialist and Phillipos himself is law abiding and has a bright future.
The trial is expected to last two weeks and is taking place in U.S. District Court in Boston. Phillipos lost a change of venue motion when he requested that the trial take place in another city as Boston would have a jury pool too biased from the attack at the Boston Marathon to be able to be fair. If convicted for lying to authorities after the Boston Marathon bombing, suspect Dzhokhar Tsarnaev’s friend faces up to eight years in prison.
By Jennifer Fernicola Ronay