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Robel Phillipos Case Goes To Jury

October 21, 2014Updated Oct 21, 2014 4:25 PM

  • Denise Lavoie A friend of Boston Marathon bombing suspect Dzhokhar Tsarnaev told a string of lies to investigators, a prosecutor told a jury Tuesday, but a defense lawyer said the defendant was a frightened 19-year-old who couldn't remember certain details because he had smoked marijuana for at least 12 hours straight.

Robel Phillipos, of Cambridge, is charged with lying to the FBI about being in Tsarnaev's dorm room at the University of Massachusetts-Dartmouth while two other friends removed a backpack containing fireworks and other potential evidence several days after the April 15, 2013, attack. Two bombs placed near the marathon finish line killed three people and injured more than 260.

Robel Phillipos, left, a college friend of Boston Marathon bombing suspect Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, arrives to federal court in Boston last week. (Steven Senne/AP)

In closing arguments Tuesday, Assistant U.S. Attorney Stephanie Siegmann said Phillipos repeatedly lied to FBI agents about what he did on the night of April 18, 2013, and dismissed the defense claim that Phillipos couldn't clearly remember what he did.

"First, ladies and gentlemen, there are some events that are so profound, so significant, that you cannot possibly forget them," Siegmann said. "Would you ever conceivably forget that you went to the dorm room of someone that you believe murdered three people and maimed hundreds of others?"

But Phillipos' attorney, Derege Demissie, told the jury that Phillipos had smoked marijuana at least a half dozen times that day and was unable to recall many of his activities when he was questioned by the FBI days later. Demissie said Phillipos sat in Tsarnaev's dorm room passively watching TV that night, never saw the backpack or the fireworks and did not see his friends remove the items.

Demissie repeatedly referred to Phillipos, now 21, as "this kid" and sarcastically dismissed what he said was an attempt by prosecutors to depict him as a "criminal mastermind." He emphasized that Phillipos voluntarily agreed to talk to the FBI multiple times.

"This criminal mastermind brought his cellphone and did not delete anything related to going to Dzhokhar's room and handed the phone to the agent," Demissie said. "It's consistent with a kid who has nothing to hide."

The jury deliberated for about two hours on Tuesday afternoon after receiving instructions on the law from U.S. District Judge Douglas Woodlock. Talks are to resume Wednesday morning.

Phillipos attended high school in Cambridge with Tsarnaev and later attended UMass-Dartmouth with him.

Prosecutors say Tsarnaev and his older brother, Tamerlan, planted two pressure-cooker bombs near the marathon finish line. Tamerlan Tsarnaev died following a shootout with police several days after the bombing.

Dzhokhar Tsarnaev has pleaded not guilty to 30 federal charges and is scheduled to go on trial in January. He could face the death penalty if convicted.


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