Robel Phillipos convicted of lying to federal agents in Boston Marathon bombing probe
He is a friend of Boston Marathon bombing suspect Dzhokhar Tsarnaev's
Federal jury found another friend, Azamat Tazhayakov, guilty of obstructing justice
A third friend, Dias Kadyrbayev, pleaded guilty to conspiring to obstruct justice
Robel Phillipos, a friend of Boston Marathon bombing suspect Dzhokhar Tsarnaev’s, was convicted Tuesday on two counts of lying to federal agents investigating the 2013 bombing, according to the U.S. attorney’s office.
Prosecutors said Phillipos lied to investigators about being in Tsarnaev’s college dorm room at the University of Massachusetts-Dartmouth after the bombing.
He faces up to eight years in prison on each count and a $250,000 fine. He will be sentenced January 29.
After the verdict, U.S. Attorney Carmen Ortiz said thousands of citizens assisted law enforcement in identifying and tracking down the suspects following one of the most significant events in Boston’s modern history.
“A federal jury concluded that Robel Phillipos did just the opposite,” she told reporters. “He lied to agents when he could have helped. He concealed when he could have assisted. It is a crime to lie to law enforcement agents, and that is why Robel Phillipos was charged and why the jury found him guilty today. But this case also reminds us that our public safety network relies on every citizen in the commonwealth.”
Defense attorneys Derege Demissie and Susan Church said their client will appeal the verdict.
“Basically … the jury found that he was present in the room while others did what they did in this case,” Church said.
Defense lawyers argued that Phillipos, a Boston native, was a “frightened and confused 19-year-old” when authorities questioned him several times in the days following the April 15, 2013, bombing, which killed three people and wounded more than 260.
“I don’t believe that Robel Phillipos has ever been more angry at a person than he was at Dzhokhar Tsarnaev when Robel found out that Dzhokhar Tsarnaev did what he did in this case,” Church said after the verdict. “He was absolutely mortified. It was an unbelievable feeling of shock and betrayal that somebody that he knew could commit such atrocious and horrible acts.”
Police believe Tsarnaev and his older brother, Tamerlan Tsarnaev – who was killed by police after the attacks – set off the two bombs near the race’s finish line.
Phillipos attended high school with the younger Tsarnaev at Cambridge Rindge and Latin School in Cambridge, Massachusetts.
According to court documents, Phillipos hadn’t seen or talked to Dzhokhar Tsarnaev for at least two months before the bombing. He was taking a semester off from the University of Massachusetts-Dartmouth and was only on campus the night of April 18, 2013, for a seminar.
His attorneys said that Phillipos was under tremendous pressure when he was interrogated and didn’t have a lawyer at the time to help him.
Phillipos’ presence on campus that night is a case of “sheer coincidence and bad luck,” the defense lawyers said.
Phillipos was living with his mother, an Ethiopian who immigrated to the United States in the 1980s and is now employed as a social worker.
In July, a federal jury found another friend of Dzhokhar Tsarnaev’s guilty of obstructing the investigation into the attack.
The jury found Azamat Tazhayakov guilty of obstructing justice and conspiring to obstruct justice in connection with the removal of a backpack with potential evidence from Tsarnaev’s dorm room after the bombings. Tazhayakov will be sentenced November 19.
A third friend of Tsarnaev’s, Dias Kadyrbayev, pleaded guilty in August to conspiring to obstruct justice and obstructing justice with the intent to impede the bombing investigation. He will be sentenced November 18.
Prosecutors said Phillipos repeatedly lied to investigators when he denied that he entered Tsarnaev’s dormitory room and saw Kadyrbayev remove a backpack containing fireworks on the evening of April 18, 2013.
At trial, prosecutors showed that Phillipos saw the images released by the FBI of the suspected bombers and recognized Dzhokhar Tsarnaev. On April 18, Phillipos went with Tazhayakov to Tsarnaev’s dormitory room, where he and Tazhayakov watched as Kadyrbayev searched through Tsarnaev’s belongings and found a backpack containing fireworks.
When Kadyrbayev, Tazhayakov and Phillipos left Tsarnaev’s room at 10:30 p.m., Kadyrbayev removed Tsarnaev’s backpack containing fireworks, a jar of Vaseline, and Tsarnaev’s laptop computer, prosecutors said. Later that night while Tazhayakov and Phillipos watched the manhunt for the Tsarnaevs on television, Kadyrbayev discussed getting rid of the backpack with the fireworks with them.
Kadrybayev placed Dzhokhar Tsarnaev’s backpack in a garbage bag and dropped it in a trash bin outside their apartment. The FBI recovered the backpack a week later at a landfill.
Kadyrbayev and Tazhayakov are both nationals of Kazakhstan who were temporarily living in the United States on student visas while attending the University of Massachusetts-Dartmouth.