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Conviction upheld for Robel Phillipos, friend of Boston Marathon bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev

A federal appeals court has upheld the criminal conviction of Robel Phillipos, a friend of Boston Marathon bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev who was convicted of lying to the FBI in the days after the April 2013 bombing.

Phillipos, 23, had sought to have his 2014 conviction thrown out, contending that statements he had made to the FBI were involuntary.

Phillipos had initially denied to an FBI agent that he went to Tsarnaev’s dorm room at the University of Massachusetts in Dartmouth three days after the bombing after he recognized Tsarnaev in a photo of the bombing suspects that was released by the FBI. He also denied going there with two other friends, and said he did not see those two friends go into the dorm room and remove a backpack. But he later confessed that he had lied.

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He was sentenced to three years in prison and is being held at a low-security prison in Pennsylvania. He is slated to be released in February 2018.

Lawyers for Phillipos had argued to the US Court of Appeals for the First Circuit, the regional appeals court in Boston, that the judge who oversaw his trial erred when he refused to hold a hearing to determine whether to exclude Phillipos’ written confession as evidence, on the grounds that Phillipos was coerced into writing the confession.

US District Judge Douglas P. Woodlock, who oversaw the trial, had refused to hold a hearing because Phillipos did not provide any evidence other than a written affidavit to show that he was coerced. The judge said Phillipos would have to testify under cross-examination that the confession was coerced. Phillipos refused to do so.

The appeals court found that Woodlock had the authority to refuse to hold a hearing.

Phillipos’ lawyers had also argued that the case should be thrown out because none of Phillipos’ false statements were “material” to the federal investigation of the Marathon bombing, but the appeals court rejected that argument.

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“These statements by Phillipos could reasonably be deemed to have been intended to obscure the potentially unlawful activities of the defendant’s friends from law enforcement and thereby to frustrate an ongoing investigation,” the court found.

The two friends who were with Phillipos at Tsarnaev’s dorm were convicted of removing evidence from the dorm room. Dias Kadyrbayev was sentenced to six years in prison. He is being held at a low-security prison in Texas, and is slated to be released in July 2018. Azamat Tazhayakov was sentenced to three and one-half years in prison after agreeing to cooperate with prosecutors and was released in 2016.

Tsarnaev, 23, the only person to be charged with carrying out the Marathon bombing, in 2015 was sentenced to death. He is appealing his sentence.


Milton J. Valencia can be reached at milton.valencia
@globe.com
. Follow him on Twitter @miltonvalencia.