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House arrest and $100,000 bail for 'frightened' friend of Tsarnaev

Jane Flavell Collins / AP

In a courtroom sketch, Robel Phillipos appears before a federal magistrate last week. Phillipos and two other college friends of Boston Marathon bombing suspect Dzhokhar Tsarnaev were arrested and charged with removing a backpack containing hollowed-out fireworks from Tsarnaev's dorm room.

A friend of Dzhokhar Tsarnaev charged with lying to federal investigators after the Boston Marathon bombings was placed on house arrest Monday after posting $100,000 bail.

The friend, Robel Phillipos, was ordered released into the custody of his mother. He will have to wear an electronic monitoring bracelet and submit to drug testing. He will not be allowed to leave home except for court appearances and 911 emergencies.

Federal prosecutors and lawyers for Phillipos had filed a joint motion earlier in the day encouraging a judge to put him on house arrest after determining that he was not a flight risk.

Lawyers for Phillipos, 19, had said over the weekend that their client was “frightened and confused” when he was questioned by investigators days after the attack, and argued that he had nothing to do with the attack itself.

Phillipos is one of three friends of Tsarnaev, the surviving suspect in the bombings, who were arrested last week after they were questioned about the removal of a backpack and fireworks from Tsarnaev’s dorm room three days after the blasts.

Susan Church, one of the attorneys for Robel Phillipos says, "at no time did Robel have any prior knowledge of this marathon bombing; nor participate in any of the planning done by defendant in case."

Phillipos spoke only once during his hearing Monday. When the judge asked whether he understood the terms of his release, he answered, “Yes.” U.S. Magistrate Judge Marianne Bowler set his next hearing for May 17.

Family or friends of Phillipos — it was not clear which — said they would put up real estate to meet the $100,000 bond.

Outside court, one of Phillipos’ lawyers, Susan Church, emphasized that he is not charged with removing evidence. Two Kazakh students, Dias Kadyrbayev and Azamat Tazhayakov, are charged with that crime.

“Just like all Americans and all people from Boston, Robel is grieving at the tragedy and the lives lost forever,” she said.

All three men knew Tsarnaev from the University of Massachusetts at Dartmouth. In the court papers, lawyers described Phillipos as mild-mannered and peaceful, without a criminal record and with deep ties to his family, his church and the community in Cambridge, Mass.

The lawyers argued that Phillipos was questioned without a lawyer and made himself available to federal authorities at all times. The charge of lying has ruined what was a bright future, they said.

“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 lawyers wrote.

The papers seek to distance Phillipos from the two Kazakhs and from Tsarnaev. Phillipos had taken a leave of absence for the spring semester and had not been in touch with the other three for more than two months, the lawyers argued.

It was only by “sheer coincidence and bad luck,” the lawyers wrote, that Phillipos was invited to attend a campus seminar on April 18, the day the backpack and fireworks were removed from Tsarnaev’s dorm room.

The lawyers also submitted 17 letters from people who know Phillipos, including his mother, attesting to his character. One was from a community soccer coach who said Phillipos was “very respectful” and excelled despite being the smallest player.

His mother, Genet Bekele, wrote that the family, which is of Ethiopian descent, looks forward to the marathon each year and cheers, on the sidelines or watching on television, as Ethiopians cross the finish line.

After the bombings, “We mourned for those who lost their lives and prayed for the injured,” she wrote. “My son wants nothing more than the opportunity to clear his name.”

Tsarnaev, 19, who is in a federal prison hospital in Massachusetts, has been charged with using a weapon of mass destruction and could face the death penalty. He was wounded in a firefight with police before he was captured April 19.

Tamerlan Tsarnaev's uncle is in Massachusetts to arrange his burial, but four cemeteries have refused to bury him and protesters have set up camp outside the funeral parlor where his body is being held. NBC's Katy Tur reports.

His brother, Tamerlan, was killed in the firefight. A funeral parlor in Worcester, Mass., accepted the body, but as of Sunday the Tsarnaev family had not found a cemetery willing to bury him.

Three people were killed and more than 200 injured when two bombs went off April 15 near the marathon finish line. Twelve people remained in Boston hospitals Sunday.

The One Fund Boston, which has raised more than $28 million for victims, plans to hold a town hall meeting in Boston on Monday to discuss plans for how the money will be distributed.


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