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Tsarnaev friend asks judge to dismiss charges

Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, 20, faces a 30-count federal indictment stemming from the twin April 15, 2013, bombings.
Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, 20, faces a 30-count federal indictment stemming from the twin April 15, 2013, bombings.AP/File

One of the college friends of alleged Boston Marathon bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev asked a federal judge Friday to dismiss charges that he lied to investigators about visiting Tsarnaev’s dorm room several days after the attack, saying he repeatedly told authorities he could not recall the visit because he was high on marijuana.

Robel Phillipos attended the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth with Tsarnaev, and he ultimately admitted that he accompanied two friends to Tsarnaev’s dorm room after authorities released a picture of the suspected bomber to news organizations. The other two friends were later accused of removing evidence from the dorm room, including a backpack filled with fireworks and a computer.


Lawyers for Phillipos said in a court filing Friday that their client spent the entire day of the visit smoking marijuana and that federal agents would not accept his repeated statement that he did not recall entering the room. Phillipos, who knew Tsarnaev from their days at Cambridge Rindge and Latin School, also gave differing accounts of what the other two friends did, but said he could not recall clearly, because he was “stoned.”

The lawyers asserted in a motion to dismiss the case that Phillipos was repeatedly interrogated over seven days and was forced to sign a statement of what occurred, much of which he did not remember. They also noted he did not have a lawyer.

“Phillipos had no intention of misleading the authorities in any way,” the attorneys, Derege B. Demissie and Susan Church, said in a prepared statement.

The court request was one of several filings Friday in US District Court in Boston related to Tsarnaev’s case and the charges against his friends, who were accused of lying to authorities and covering up evidence.

Tsarnaev, now 20, faces charges that carry the possibility of the death penalty related to the April 15, 2013, bombings that killed three people and injured more than 260. He and his older brother and alleged accomplice, Tamerlan, were also accused of fatally shooting an MIT police officer before trying to flee. Tamerlan, 26, was killed during a confrontation with police in Watertown.


Dzhokhar Tsarnaev is being held without bail at the federal prison at Fort Devens in Ayer.

In one of the court filings Friday, federal prosecutors asked a judge to force Tsarnaev’s defense lawyers to disclose by May 7 whether Tsarnaev suffered from any type of mental illness and whether he will present that claim as part of his defense or to prevent the death penalty.

Defense attorneys have not suggested in court filings so far that Tsarnaev was mentally ill. But they have indicated they will argue he was under the “psychological domination” of his older brother, who had turned toward radical Islam. They have asked prosecutors to turn over any evidence supporting that claim.

In a separate filing Friday, prosecutors disputed claims from Tsarnaev’s lawyers that the FBI recruited Tamerlan as an informant, and they maintained that they have turned over all information in the case that they are required to under court rules. A federal judge has slated a hearing for Wednesday on defense lawyers’ arguments for more records, but prosecutors argue those requests are “hyperbole” by an “imaginative defense team” fishing for information.

Prosecutors also asked US District Court Judge George A. O’Toole Jr. to force defense lawyers to turn over any evidence they plan to use in the scheduled November trial.


In the days after Tsarnaev’s arrest, authorities charged Phillipos and two friends, Dias Kadyrbayev and Azamat Tazhayakov, both college students from Kazakhstan.

They allegedly went into Tsarnaev’s dorm room after receiving a text message from him saying they could take what they wanted, after his photo had been released. Kadyrbayev and Tazhayakov allegedly threw out a backpack and fireworks tubes, and took his computer. The backpack and fireworks were later recovered from a New Bedford landfill.

Kadyrbayev and Tazhayakov, who have been charged with obstruction of justice, have been held without bail, and face deportation. Phillipos, a US citizen and native of Massachusetts, has been charged with lying to authorities about the visit to the dorm room and has been released on $100,000 bond.

On Friday, Kadyrbayev’s lawyer asked a federal judge to dismiss the case, saying the charges are too broad, that his client would not have known of the consequences, and that authorities have failed to specify what acts he committed were illegal.

Kadyrbayev also asked a judge, if the case is not dismissed, to strike any references to terrorism and “to the emotional and difficult facts of the bombing,” saying it could prejudice a jury.

Milton J. Valencia can be reached at MValencia@
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