A federal grand jury today indicted Robel Phillipos, a friend of accused Boston Marathon bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, on charges of lying to investigators during a terrorism probe, despite attempts by Phillipos’s defense lawyers to resolve the case.
Phillipos, a 19-year-old Cambridge man, is accused of lying to investigators about removing items from Tsarnaev’s dorm room with two other friends the night of April 18, three days after the bombings killed three people and injured more than 260 others.
Initially, prosecutors said, Phillipos denied that he had gone to Tsarnaev’s dorm that night with Dias Kadyrbayev and Azamat Tazhayakov, exchange students from Kazakhstan who met Tsarnaev and Phillipos when all four enrolled at the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth in the fall of 2011.
The friends visited the dorm room shortly after authorities posted photos of the still-unidentified Tsarnaev, 20, and his brother Tamerlan, 26.
Federal officials said the three men went to Tsarnaev’s dorm room, took a backpack containing partially emptied fireworks and other items, and returned to the Kazakh men’s off-campus apartment in New Bedford.
According to authorities, at the apartment the Kazakh men “started to freak out” when they realized from a CNN report that Tsarnaev was one of the suspected bombers.
Phillipos, according to court records, told authorities that Kadyrbayev asked if he should throw away the backpack. Phillipos allegedly said, “Do what you have to do.”
Phillipos told investigators he took a nap, and that the backpack was gone when he woke up.
Kadyrbayev and Tazhayakov were indicted Aug. 8 for allegedly taking the backpack from Tsarnaev’s dorm room and tossing it and other items in a trash bin, then watching as a rubbish truck took it away.
Phillipos’s attorneys, Derege B. Demissie and Susan B. Church said he would continue to fight the allegations against him.
“In time, it will be clear that this prosecution should not have been brought in the first place. It is clear that Phillipos had nothing to do with the removal of the backpack or destruction of potential evidence,” the lawyers said. “He appreciates deeply the overwhelming support he continues to receive from his community and his family during this difficult time.”
Dzhokhar Tsarnaev and his brother, Tamerlan, apparently began a desperate bid to flee the area on April 18 after their pictures were released by authorities, on the way allegedly killing MIT police officer Sean Collier.
Tamerlan Tsarnaev died hours later in a shootout with police and Dzhokhar Tsarnaev was captured. He is now in federal custody facing multiple criminal charges. He has pleaded not guilty.
The grand jury charged Phillipos with two counts of making false statements on two different occasions during a terrorism investigation. He was initially arrested in May on the same charges and later released on bond. The indictment is the next step in the criminal process.
A court date for his arraignment has not been set but his lawyers have said he had nothing to do with the bombings and that he was a frightened young man who struggled amid intense interrogation by federal investigators.
If convicted, Phillipos faces up to eight years in federal prison on each of the two counts.
Kadyrbayev and Tazhayakov were indicted earlier this month on charges of conspiring to obstruct justice and obstructing justice with the intent to impede a terrorism investigation. They have pleaded not guilty.
If convicted, they face up to 20 years in prison for obstruction of justice and five years for the conspiracy charge. They are in federal custody pending trial.
All face up to three years of supervised release and a $250,000 fine for each charge. Kadyrbayev and Tazhayakov are also facing deportation to Kazakhstan once the criminal case is completed.
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