Marijuana defense claimed as friend of Boston bombing suspect goes on trial

The defense for Robel Phillipos, who allegedly saw friends removing evidence from the accused Boston Marathon bomber's dorm room, argued Phillipos lied to investigators because his state of mind was impaired after smoking marijuana.

Michael Dwyer/AP/File
Robel Phillipos, whose trial began in federal court in Boston Monday, is charged with lying to authorities about being in Boston Marathon bombing suspect Dzhokhar Tsarnaev's dorm room while two other friends removed Tsarnaev’s backpack, laptop and other items.

During the trial Monday of the friend of alleged Boston Marathon bomber Dzokhar Tsarnaev, the defense told the jury that Robel Phillipos had smoked marijuana and was in an altered state of mind the day he allegedly went to Mr. Tsarnaev's college dorm room and was involved in the removal of incriminating evidence in the days following the Boston attack. 

Mr. Phillipos is one of four men who is charged in connection with alleged actions that transpired after the April 2013 bombings. He has been charged in US District Court in Boston.

The day he allegedly witnessed the removal of bombing case evidence, he was "high out of his mind," leaving his memory "jumbled," defense attorney Derege Demissie said in his opening argument at Phillipos's trial, The Boston Globe reported.

The defense argument is that this explains why he told FBI agents he did not remember going to the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth dorm room on April 18, 2013, and that he was subsequently coerced by the agents into signing a confession admitting he had in fact witnessed evidence being removed.

"This case is going to be about the effect of marijuana and memory," Mr. Demissie said, according to Bloomberg. He added that Phillipos "spent the entire day and evening highly intoxicated." 

Prosecutors say Phillipos lied to investigators about going with two friends to Tsarnaev's dorm room where the two took evidence linking Tsarnaev to the bombing that killed three people and injured more than 260 people. Phillipos subsequently admitted to going to the dorm room and seeing a backpack in the room that contained fireworks, prosecutors said, according to The Wall Street Journal

"He could not have been much more accurate if he had used a ruler," Assistant US Attorney John Capin told the jury in reference to Phillipos's description of the fireworks, the Journal noted. 

Authorities say Phillipos lied twice regarding events in the days following the bombing attacks – once when he said he did not recall visiting Tsarnaev's room and again when he said he did not see items removed from the room, according to the Globe. 

Phillipos's attorneys made the case that he is a young man with a promising future who made a bad decision following the frightful events of the marathon bombings, The Globe reported, adding that he is the child of an immigrant mother from Ethiopia who works as a domestic violence specialist. 

The other two friends, Azamat Tazhayakov and Dias Kadyrbayev, are citizens of Kazakhstan who were studying in the US on student visas. Mr. Kadyrbayev pleaded guilty and Mr. Tazhayakov was convicted in July on obstruction of justice charges. The two men removed evidence from Tsarnaev's dorm room, according to Bloomberg. 

Phillipos, a US citizen, has pleaded not guilty and has denied any wrongdoing. He has not been accused of involvement in the bombing, Bloomberg reports. If convicted, Phillipos, who knew Tsarnaev from their time together in grade school all the way through their time in college, faces up to eight years in prison. 

A fourth friend has been accused of possessing a gun that may have been used by the bombing suspects in the killing of an MIT police officer, the Globe reports. 

Tsarnaev, who is awaiting trial on 30 federal charges, could face the death penalty if convicted. His trial is set for January after being delayed two months from an original Nov. 3 trial date. 

Authorities believe he worked with his older brother Tamerlan Tsarnaev to carry out the April 2013 attacks. The elder Tsarnaev was killed in the days following the attack in a shootout with law enforcement. 

  • Material from The Associated Press was used in this report. 
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