The jury in the trial of the friend of alleged Boston Marathon bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev found Robel Phillipos guilty of two counts of lying to investigators in a terrorism investigation. Each count carried a maximum sentence of eight years.
Reporters in the courtroom said neither Phillipos nor his family members showed any emotion when the verdict was read. He will remain on house arrest until his sentencing, which is scheduled for January 29. Defense attorneys for Phillipos said outside the courtroom that they would file an appeal in the case.
“Today, we are really gratified with jury’s verdict,’’ US Attorney Carmen Ortiz said in a statement. “With the verdict today, the jury got it exactly right.’’
Prosecutors alleged that Phillipos, 21, intentionally lied about his whereabouts and what he saw on April 18, 2013, when he and two friends allegedly visited Tsarnaev’s dorm room. Prosecutors said Phillipos looked on as the friends removed a backpack allegedly holding some of Tsarnaev’s things, including fireworks, after the Marathon bombings. They argued that Phillipos originally told investigators a different version of events, but then admitted to lying in a signed confession during his fifth interview with investigators.
Phillipos’s defense team contended that he was a scared 19-year-old at the time who was “high out of his mind’’ during interviews with investigators and could not remember the events of April 18 clearly. The signed confession, the defense team said, was “manufactured’’ and signed by a scared Phillipos.
Phillipos faced two lying counts: one referred to his statements during interrogation on April 20, while the other referred to his statements on April 25. After about 35 hours of deliberation, jurors gave verdicts on nine alleged false statements in total, including two from April 20 and seven from April 25. For Phillipos to have been found guilty of both charges, jurors had to rule that he made false statements at least once on each day.
In addition, jurors ruled that the false statements involved terrorism, which come with lengthier sentences.
“The length of jury deliberations certainly reinforced that this was not a frivolous defense,’’ criminal defense lawyer Martin G. Weinberg said. “It was a credible defense that was not disregarded or reflexively rejected by 12 jurors.’’
Phillipos’s marijuana use and its impact on his memory was a key topic over the two-week trial. Many of the defense team’s witnesses were friends of Phillipos who testified that they had smoked with him on April 18, and that he was “fishbowling,’’ a term for smoking marijuana inside a closed area.
Former Massachusetts governor Mike Dukakis’s testimony for the defense was the biggest surprise of the two-week trial. Dukakis said he was a long-time friend of Phillipos’s mother, a Cambridge social worker. He testified that he took a young Robel Phillipos to the Democratic National Convention in Boston in 2004.
On the stand, Dukakis said that he had spoken with a “confused’’ Phillipos over the phone on April 20 after a five-hour FBI interview at the request of Phillipos’s mother. In the conversation, Phillipos said he was so confused he wasn’t sure what he had told investigators, Dukakis told the court.
Philip A. Tracy, Jr., a Boston defense lawyer and litigator, said Dukakis’s presence may have impacted the jury’s decision-making.
“I think [Dukakis’s testimony] made the jury think this could be a regular kid who made a mistake,’’ he said.
Tracy also said the length of deliberations could affect Tsarnaev’s upcoming trial.
“This is detrimental to any move by Jahar Tsarnaev to get a change of venue in the case,’’ Tracy said, “because it shows that the jurors can be thoughtful and thorough and go through the evidence without a knee jerk reaction to a horrible case.’’
Phillipos was the third friend of Tsarnaev to face related charges. Azamat Tazhayakov was convicted of obstruction of justice and conspiracy charges in July. Another Tsarnaev friend, Dias Kadyrbayev, pleaded guilty to obstruction of justice charges in August. Both are due to be sentenced later this fall.
Tazhayakov, who faces up to 25 years in prison, testified as a witness against Phillipos during the trial in an effort to reduce that sentence. Tazhayakov said Phillipos was present in Tsarnaev’s dorm room on April 18 and that he did not seem to be having marijuana-related troubles concentrating.
Dzhokhar Tsarnaev is charged with 30 counts related to the Boston Marathon bombings, which killed three people and injured more than 260. He has pleaded not guilty and could face the death penalty if convicted. His trial is expected to begin in January.