Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Robel Phillipos Pleads Not Guilty: Kate Russell's Parents Testify

On September 13, Robel Phillipos, the third friend of Boston marathon bombing suspect Dzhokhar Tsarnaev to appear in front of Federal Magistrate Marianne Bowler, pled “Not Guilty” at Moakley Federal Courthouse.

Tsarnaev faces the possibility of the death penalty for the bombing, which killed three and injured over 260 people. Three of his friends were also indicted for allegedly lying to investigators and trying to cover up his role after the bombings, according to a grand jury indictment filed August 29. They are accused of throwing away a backpack containing fireworks and removing a laptop computer from Tsarnaev’s dorm room at UMass Dartmouth. Phillipos is alleged to have concealed from the FBI the fact that the three men had gone into Tsarnaev’s room. Phillipos, who was interrogated without a lawyer present, was charged by the grand jury of making “numerous false and misleading statements to the agents.” 

All three face 20 years in federal prison and could be fined $250,000.

Robel Phillipos, a Cambridge resident and US citizen, is being held on home confinement while Dias Kadyrbayev and Azamat Tazhayakov, who were foreign students from Kazakhstan, await trial under conditions of 24 hour isolation in prison. Tazhayakov’s family was in court during the brief arraignment. The family plans to remain in the United States until the case is resolved.

All three teenagers were scheduled to appear together in court at 10am but only Kadyrbayev and Phillipos arrived there on time. Azamat Tazhayakov's attorney was delayed on a train from New York when a tree fell across the tracks, so his hearing took place at 2pm. Despite the fact that he was late due to circumstances beyond his control, the attorney received a harsh verbal rebuke from Judge Bowler, who had wanted the three to be heard as a group. 

According to US District Attorney spokeswoman Christina Dilorio-Sterling, Kadyrbayev and Tazhayakov, who already pled Not Guilty last month, will not face any new charges, but their indictment has changed to include Phillipos.

Phillipos’ attorneys Derege Demissie and Susan Church stated that Phillipos had nothing to do whatsoever with the Boston Marathon bombing or destroying any evidence. In the end, it will be clear that this prosecution should never have been brought in the first place.” 

Kadyrbayev's attorney Robert Stahl describes his client as "a law-abiding college student whose only crime was befriending a fellow student who spoke his more comfortable native language." 

Tazhayakov’s attorney, Nicholas Wooldridge, said the government “rushed into things” in prosecuting his client. Tazhayakov’s family believe he is being "scapegoated," according to attorney Arkady Bukh.
"If he wanted to assist in terrorism, he would have hid the computer," Bukh said, adding that he gave the computer to investigators as soon as they asked for it.

“This is a witch hunt,” Wooldridge told reporters. 

All three friends are due back in court Oct. 29 for a status conference.

The day before, on September 12, the in-laws of Tamerlan Tsarnaev testified in front of a grand jury. Tamerlan is the brother who was killed in a shootout with Boston police. Judith and Warren Russell, parents of Tamerlan’s widow, Katherine Russell appeared after being subpoenaed to testify. Josh Dratel, a lawyer who represents Katherine Russell and her family, said her parents “told the truth.”

“We know that there’s been pressure on law enforcement and the Justice Department in this case. We don’t want her to be scapegoated as a result of that pressure,” Dratel told reporters.

Amato DeLuca, an attorney for Katherine Russell and her family, told reporters she didn’t suspect her husband of anything before the bombings, and nothing seemed strange in the days after. DeLuca said Russell was working 70 to 80 hours per week as a home health aide and had no reason to suspect her husband of anything. Dratel told reporters that the grand jury’s investigation “is not necessarily an investigation of Katherine.”

DeLuca said on Thursday that Russell’s parents also knew nothing about their son-in-law’s alleged involvement  in the bombing that killed three people and wounded more than 260, until after he was publicly identified by authorities.

“They don’t know anything. They have no knowledge,” he said. “They met Tamerlan, so I’m sure they’re being asked about his background.”

Russell, 24, is from Rhode Island. She and Tamerlan Tsarnaev met at Suffolk University in Boston. She had converted to Islam and married him at a Boston mosque in June 2010 — against her family’s wishes and advice, said her grandmother. She gave birth to their daughter soon after and dropped out of college.

Russell and her daughter moved into her parents’ Rhode Island home immediately after her husband was killed and her brother-in-law was captured in a massive manhunt that shut down the Boston area. Russell has never been charged with any wrongdoing, but she has been questioned several times and was followed for several weeks after the bombings by federal authorities. Federal officials ended surveillance of her home around the time her brother-in-law was indicted, according to neighbors, reported the Associated Press.

The new head of the FBI in Boston, Vincent B. Lisi, said on September 16 that the investigation into the Boston Marathon bombing is ongoing and a priority.

“We owe that to the victims of the bombing,” he said. “Our focus, commitment, is that nobody in our office will rest until we’ve identified everyone that had anything to do with the bombing and make sure they face justice.”

On September 23, family and friends of Sunil Tripathi circulated a heartbreaking statement via social media to commemorate his birthday. Tripathi was found dead in a lake after TV news announced he was the Boston Bomber. Their statement reads:

“We are all thinking of Sunny very much today, as today would have been his 23rd birthday. Today we remember Sunil’s gentleness, his care for others, his desire never to be in the spotlight (yup, we messed up on this one!), his musical talent and passion, his principled stands, his incredible ability to debate abstract philosophical concepts, his hugs, and his deep love and kindness for his family, friends, and strangers alike... Keep reaching out to one another in honor and celebration of Sunil. Remember to always slow down. Turn around and look behind you. Be gentle. Be compassionate. Take care of one another. Lend your hand. We need it. The world needs it. Our family will never be the same, Sunny, without having you close to us. We love and miss you so very much. Happy 23rd birthday, Sunny!”

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