Bombing Suspect’s Friend Accused of Lying About Pot HazeErik Larson and Janelle Lawrence
The former college student charged with lying to authorities probing the Boston Marathon bombing couldn’t have forgotten visiting the suspect’s dorm room when evidence was removed, even if he’d been high on marijuana as he claims, a prosecutor told jurors
Robel Phillipos, 21, is accused in the second trial stemming from the bombing of lying about whether he saw two friends remove a backpack, fireworks casings and a laptop from Dzhokhar Tsarnaev’s room three days after the attack, which killed three people and wounded 260. One of the friends was found guilty of obstruction of justice in July and testified against Phillipos. The other pleaded guilty.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Stephanie Siegmann urged jurors in her closing statement today to reject Phillipos’s claim that he didn’t lie when he told federal agents he couldn’t remember the visit because his memory was impaired from smoking marijuana for as long as 16 hours that day.
“Could you conceivably ever forget you went to the dorm room of someone who murdered three people and maimed hundreds of others?” Siegmann said in Boston federal court. “He watched as his friends obstructed the Boston bombing investigation.”
Two improvised bombs, built in pressure cookers and concealed in backpacks, were detonated with mobile phones in crowds near the marathon finish line on April 15, 2013, in the deadliest terror attack on U.S. soil in more than a decade. Tsarnaev, who faces a possible death sentence if he’s convicted in a trial starting in January, was on the run from police when the incriminating items were taken from his dorm.
Phillipos and the two other friends, none of whom are accused of involvement in the bombing, were fellow students at the University of Massachusetts at Dartmouth and three of Tsarnaev’s closest friends, the U.S. said.
Siegmann said Phillipos waited until his fifth interview with Federal Bureau of Investigation agents to admit he had lied about whether he visited Tsarnaev’s dorm and never said before the trial that his pot use had made him forget.
“You heard a lot in this trial about the effects of marijuana, but what you didn’t hear was the defendant actually forgot anything because of his marijuana use,” Siegmann said. “He didn’t say to any of the agents, ‘I forgot because I was using marijuana.’”
Phillipos’s lawyer, Derege Demissie, told jurors during his closing statement that the government had manipulated Phillipos by using an experienced interrogator to get him to sign a confession.
“You can imagine being in a room with someone telling you you are in big trouble, you’ll be arrested, there are wolves outside waiting to come in and arrest you,” Demissie said. “The only way out is to sign a statement that the guy is typing on his laptop.”
“I ask you to do the right thing, find Robel Phillipos not guilty,” Demissie said.
Demissie said during his opening statement to the jury on Oct. 6 that the trial would hinge the effects of marijuana on his client. Two of Phillipos’s friends testified about smoking pot with him that day, including in another dorm room and in a car with the windows rolled up.
The government argues the pot defense is a ruse.
“This case is about a person who lied, not a person who didn’t remember,” Siegmann said. “This case is about someone who lied to protect himself and his friends.”
Siegmann said the government showed during the trial that Phillipos made two false statements during the interview on April 20, 2013, and again five days later. She cited Phillipos’s text message to Tsarnaev the night of the dorm room visit on April 18, 2013, at 10:14 p.m.
“Where you at bird?” Phillipos asked.
“He knew what was going on that night,” Siegmann said. “He had just spent an hour watching TV coverage of the search for the bombers.”
Ex-Massachusetts Governor Michael Dukakis testified on Oct. 16 that Phillipos seemed “confused” after his interview with the FBI. Dukakis, who ended a second term as governor in 1991 and ran for president in 1988, knows Phillipos because his wife and Phillipos’s mother were social workers who helped care for refugees, he told jurors.
Dukakis said the women worked together for several years and that Phillipos visited his home as a child and was his guest at the 2004 Democratic National Convention.
The Phillipos case is U.S. v. Kadyrbayev, 13-cr-10238, and the Tsarnaev case is U.S. v. Tsarnaev, 13-cr-10200, both in U.S. District Court, District of Massachusetts (Boston).