A third friend of Boston Marathon bombing suspect Dzhokhar Tsarnaev was charged on Thursday for two counts of lying to investigators during a terrorism probe, even though his lawyers tried to resolve the case before he received any charges.
Robel Phillipos, a 19-year-old resident of Cambridge, allegedly lied to investigators about going to Tsarnaev’s dorm room and removing a backpack full of fireworks and a laptop with two other friends on April 18, according to the indictment document.
“Robel Kidane Phillipos, defendant herein … did knowingly and willfully make a materially false, fictitious and fraudulent statement and representation, which Phillipos then knew to be false,” the indictment stated.
The two other friends, Dias Kadyrbayev and Azamat Tazhayakov, both exchange students from Kazakhstan who met Tsarnaev and Phillipos at the University of Massachusetts-Dartmouth in the fall 2011 semester, have been indicted on obstruction of justice and conspiracy of obstructing justice. They plead not guilty to the charges on Aug. 13.
Tsarnaev, 20, is accused of the April 15 bombings near the finish line of the Boston Marathon that killed three people and injured more than 260.
Law enforcement officials released surveillance photos of Tsarnaev and his brother, Tamerlan, on April 18, which led to a police chase into Watertown that night.
The brothers allegedly killed Massachusetts Institute of Technology Police Department officer Sean Collier as they tried to escape. Tamerlan was killed after a shootout with law enforcement officials and Dzhokhar was captured later that day after hiding in a dry-locked boat. He pleaded not guilty to all charges against him on July 10.
The friends visited Tsarnaev’s dorm room on April 18 before authorities posted photos of the bombing suspects after receiving texts from Tsarnaev instructing them to go to his room and to take whatever they want. They then went to Tsarnaev’s room, removed the items and returned to Kadyrbayev and Tazhayakov’s apartment in New Bedford where they tossed the items in a trash bin and watched a garbage truck take them away, according to the indictment.Phillipos was previously arrested with Kadyrbayev and Tazhayakov on May 1, but not charged with them because his lawyers were engaged in negotiations to resolve the matter before he was charged.
If convicted, Phillipos faces a maximum penalty of eight years in federal prison on each count and a $250,000 fine for each charged, according to a Thursday press release from U.S. Attorney General of Massachusetts Carmen Ortiz.
Kadyrbayev and Tazhayakov each face a maximum penalty of 20 years in prison on an obstruction of justice count and five years on a conspiracy count in addition to a $250,000 fine and the possibility of being deported at the end of the trial. They are scheduled to appear in court again on Sept. 26.
Derege Demissie and Susan Church, Phillipos’s attorneys, said in a statement on Thursday that their client was innocent and they will continue to try and clear his name.
“In time, it will be clear that this prosecution should not have been brought in the first place,” their statement read. “It is clear that Phillipos had nothing to do with the removal of the backpack or destruction of potential evidence. He appreciates deeply the overwhelming support he continues to receive from his community and his family during this difficult time.”
A court date for Phillipos’s arraignment has not been set.