US prosecutors have agreed to release the man charged with lying to FBI agents in the wake of the Boston marathon bombings under strict conditions that include house arrest, electronic tagging and $100,000 bail
US prosecutors have agreed to release the man charged with lying to FBI agents in the wake of the Boston marathon bombings under strict conditions that include house arrest, electronic tagging and $100,000 bail.
Robel Phillipos, 19, of Cambridge, Massachusetts faces up to eight years in prison and a $250,000 fine if convicted of making false statements to federal agents during the terrorism investigation. He is being held in custody along with two other friends of Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, the surviving bombing suspect.
Dias Kadyrbayev and Azamat Tazhayakov, both from Kazakhstan, have been charged with conspiring to obstruct justice. They are accused of having removed and dumped key evidence from Tsarnaev’s dorm room in the University of Massachusetts at Dartmouth, including fireworks and a laptop.
In court documents lodged on Monday, Carmen Ortiz, the US prosecutor leading the bombings case in Boston, filed a joint statement with Phillipos in which both parties agreed that strict conditions could be imposed on his release that would avoid any risk of flight before future criminal proceedings.
The two sides are asking the Boston federal court to impose restrictions that include “home confinement at the residence of a third-party custodian, defendant shall be monitored for 24 hours a day on an electronic bracelet, and his release will be secured by a secured bond in the amount of $100,000.”
The relatively low bail limit suggests that the authorities see Phillipos as a limited risk of absconding.
Phillipos was friends at UMass Dartmouth with Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, 19, who has been charged with carrying out the Boston marathon bombings that killed three people and injured more than 260. Tsarnaev’s brother, Tamerlan, 26, died in a shootout with police.
According to Phillipos’s lawyers, Derege Demissie and Susan Church, he was simply in the wrong place at the wrong time, becoming caught up with the suspected bomber by chance. In a court motion, the lawyers say that at the time of the bombings he had been on a leave of absence from the university and had not had any contact with Tsarnaev or the two Kazakhs for more than two months.
“By sheer coincidence and bad luck, he was invited to attend a seminar on campus on April 18,” the motion says.
Phillipos joined the two Kazakhs as they paid a visit to Tsarnaev’s dorm room three days after the bombings. According to the federal complaint against him, Phillipos lied to FBI agents by initially denying he had been in the room, later changing his story.
Phillipos’s lawyers point out that he was interrogated many times following his arrest with no lawyer present. “This case is about a frightened and confused 19-year-old who was subjected to intense questioning and interrogation, without the benefit of counsel, and in the context of one of the worst attacks against the nation.
“The weight of the federal government under such circumstances can have a devastatingly crushing effect on the ability of an adolescent to withstand the enormous pressure and respond rationally,” the defence states.
Phillipos was born in Cambridge and brought up by his mother, Genet Bekele, who emigrated to the US from Ethiopia. Bekele, a domestic violence specialist, said in an affidavit that she had raised her son “with Christian values”. She added: “Everyone knows Robel as being a compassionate, thoughtful and sociable person.”
Other affidavits gathered by the defence include a statement from Phillipos’s principal at King Open School who describes the accused as “a fine young man … an exemplary person … and a peace-maker. I feel sure that he is very afraid and that he and his mother are both feeling very ashamed.”
The teenager’s lawyers contend that he is at no risk of flight because more than anyone he wants to clear his name. “The charge has ruined his once bright future. He will suffer its enduring and devastating effect for the rest of his life.”