BOSTON (CN) – A friend of the college student who carried out the 2013 bombing of the Boston Marathon lost his appeal before the First Circuit for lying to federal investigators.
Robel Phillipos was one of three students at the University of Massachusetts, Dartmouth, who visited Dzhokhar Tsarnaev’s dorm room on April 18, 2013 – three days after Tsarnaev and his older brother, Tamerlan, had set off a pair of homemade pressure-cooker bombs at the marathon finish line, killing three, maiming 16 and injuring hundreds more.
Amid a citywide manhunt for the attackers, the FBI released photos on April 18 of the Tsarnaevs in the marathon crowd. That same day, in Dzhokhar’s dorm room, Phillipos witnessed Azamat Tazhayakov and Dias Kadrybayev leave with the 19-year-old bomber’s backpack and laptop.
After law enforcement caught up with the Tsarnaevs – apprehending Dzhokhar on April 19 hours after older brother Tamerlan was killed in a firefight – Dzhokar’s three friends were charged with the cover-up.
In his early interviews with investigators, Phillipos claimed that he hadn’t been paying attention when evidence from Dzhokhar’s room was removed. The teen’s defense attorney would claim that Phillipos was too high on marijuana to know what happened in the room.
Tazhayakov and Kadrybayev were meanwhile convicted for attempting to hide evidence, and they were sentenced to 3 1/2 and 6 years in prison, respectively. Dzhokhar meanwhile was sentenced to death.
Phillipos appealed to the First Circuit after he was sentenced to three years for two counts of making false statements to federal authorities. Arguing that the statements he made to investigators were involuntary, Phillipos claimed that while he was denied food during his interrogation while an investigator yelled in his face.
In addition to saying he was pressured into signing a confession that he did not write, Phillipos said the investigator told him that there were “wolves outside” the door.
Though Phillipos attested to the circumstances of his interrogation in an affidavit, he refused to let the government test those claims on cross-examination.
On Feb. 24, the First Circuit concluded that Phillipos’ challenge does not warrant a reversal
“Phillipos points to nothing in the record besides his affidavit that could have provided a basis for finding that he had met his burden of demonstrating a factual dispute that would warrant an evidentiary hearing at the time that the District Court imposed the cross-examination condition,” U.S. Circuit Judge David Barron wrote for a three-person panel.
The court likewise rejected claims that Phillipos could not have knowingly violated the law that forbids lying to a federal investigator, because he was not aware that he was breaking the law at the time.
“A jury could reasonably infer that someone who potentially had information about the removal and destruction of evidence in a historic terrorism investigation into a deadly attack on a symbolic event, and who was interviewed by federal law enforcement agents twice, would know that it was unlawful to make false statements to investigators about what he knew,” wrote Barron.
Phillipos, now 23, has another year left on his sentence, which he is serving in Loretto, Pennsylvania.