Robel Phillipos sentenced to three years in prison

Defense attorneys Susan Church (left) arrived witht Robel Phillipos for his sentencing Friday.
Josh Reynolds/AP
Defense attorneys Susan Church (left) arrived witht Robel Phillipos for his sentencing Friday.

A federal judge has sentenced Robel Phillipos, a high school and college friend of Boston Marathon bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, to three years in prison.

Phillipos, 21, was the last of three Tsarnaev friends sentenced to federal prison this week for their actions following the bombing that killed three and wounded more than 260 others in April 2013.

Phillipos must turn himself in to begin his sentence on July 24.


Phillipos was convicted in October of lying to federal agents about being with Azamat Tazhayakov and Dias Kadyrbayev when they took a laptop and a backpack containing emptied fireworks from Tsarnaev’s dorm room at the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth.

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The three had gone to the room several days after the bombing as the manhunt intensified for Tsarnaev and his older brother, Tamerlan. The jury rejected the defense contention that he was too high on marijuana to remember what happened.

Phillipos was friends with Tsarnaev both at the university and at Cambridge Rindge and Latin School.

Assistant US Attorney John Capin asked US District Court Judge Douglas P. Woodlock to sentence Phillipos to five years and three months, saying Phillipos had resisted telling FBI agents the truth.

“The statements were calculated to deceive,” Capin told Woodlock. “I’m not condemning him as a human being ... but his conduct is outrageous.”


Capin said Phillipos’s lies had stretched over a week and “only when he feels boxed in ... does he provide a confession.”

Defense attorney Derege Demissie asked Woodlock to sentence Phillipos to two years of home confinement. He reminded Woodlock that the judge had been sent about 98 letters of support, saying those provided a “fuller picture” of Phillipos.

He said Phillipos was in total “disbelief” that his friend Tsarnaev was the Marathon bomber.

Defense attorney Susan Church put her hand on Phillipos’s hand after Woodlock announced his sentence.

Woodlock said he recognized that Phillipos has the support of his family and his community, but his “series of misrepresentations” that lasted a week “cannot be ignored.’’ He also imposed a $25,000 fine.


Phillipos’s mother said outside the courthouse, “Nothing about sending this peaceful young man to prison will help the victims of the horrific bombing. It certainly will not promote justice in any way.”

“I still, to this day, do not support the way the FBI treated my son,” said Genet Bekele.

Phillipos was convicted of two counts of lying to FBI agents when they questioned him about what he saw Tazhayakov and Kadyrbayev do while all three were at the dorm room in a visit hours after the FBI had released surveillance pictures of the bombers to the media, hoping to get the public’s health in identifying them.

Tazhayakov and Kadyrbayev grabbed Tsarnaev’s laptop computer and the backpack, which contained Vaseline, fireworks and a thumb drive, and threw them in the trash. The backpack was later recovered from a landfill. The computer was found at Tazhayakov’s and Kadyrbayev’s New Bedford apartment.

Woodlock had sentenced Tazhayakov earlier Friday to 3 1/2 years in federal prison; Kadyrbayev earlier in the week was given a six-year sentence. Both men will be credited for about two years they have spent jailed awaiting trial. Both apologized for their actions.

Phillipos did not speak at his sentencing hearing.

Tsarnaev was convicted of participating in the April 15, 2013, bombing; in the murder of MIT Police Officer Sean Collier several days later; and in the ensuing shootout in Watertown in which his older brother, Tamerlan Tsarnaev, was killed.

Dzhokhar Tsarnaev has been sentenced to death, but a lengthy appeals process is expected. Tamerlan Tsarnaev was killed when he was shot by police and run over by a car driven by his younger brother in the Watertown confrontation.

Among those arguing against prison time for Phillipos, who has been under home confiment, was former governor Michael S. Dukakis.

But Collier’s family was among those arguing for the sentence pressed by federal prosecutors.

They argued that Phillipos could have notified law enforcement earlier and prevented Collier’s murder. Collier was sitting unsuspecting in a cruiser on the MIT campus several hours after the FBI released the surveillance pictures when the Tsarnaevs sneaked up on him and killed him in an unsuccessful attempt to get his gun.

Phillipos “had the tools and the ability to change the course of history, to stand up for his community, to show up as honorable,’’ Collier’s stepfather, Joseph W. Rogers, wrote in a letter to Judge Woodlock. “He chose to say nothing, and because of that, he has taken everything away from us. He has taken our son, grandson, brother, uncle, nephew and cousin.’’