Boston bomb suspect's friend to be released

Last updated 08:32 07/05/2013
Boston bomb arrest Robel Phillipos
HELD: Robel Phillipos is seen in a still image acquired from an undated video on his YouTube channel.
Boston Bomb suspects Tsarnaev
THE SUSPECTS: Dzhokhar Tsarnaev and his brother Tamerlan Tsarnaev.

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An American judge has agreed to release a friend of Boston Marathon bombing suspect Dzhokhar Tsarnaev from federal custody while he awaits trial for allegedly lying to federal investigators probing the bombings.

Robel Phillipos, 19, was charged last week with lying to investigators about visiting Tsarnaev's college dorm room after the bombings. The University of Massachusetts Dartmouth student faces a maximum of eight years in prison if convicted.

Prosecutors initially asked that Phillipos be held while he awaits trial, arguing that he poses a serious flight risk. But both sides said in the court motion filed that they agreed to allow Phillipos to be released on US$100,000 bond, provided he be confined to home and wear an electronic monitoring bracelet.

"We are confident that in the end we will be able to clear his name," defence attorney Derege Demissie said.

Assistant US Attorney John Capin said documents filed over the weekend by Phillipos' defence attorneys, including many affidavits showing support from family and friends, might be viewed as indirectly questioning the government's case against Phillipos.

"The government stands by its allegations," Capin said.

Defence attorney Susan Church described Phillipos as a well-liked, honour roll student with many friends and supporters. At least 50 relatives, friends and other supporters attended the court hearing.

Church emphasised that Phillipos is not accused of helping Tsarnaev and his brother plan or carry out the bombings.

"At no time did Robel have any prior knowledge of this marathon bombing," she said.

Magistrate Judge Marianne Bowler agreed to the strict house arrest during the hearing. She told Phillipos he was allowed to leave the house only for meetings with his lawyers or true emergencies.

A huge crowd of supporters, including Phillipos' relatives, friends and grade-school principal, showed up to the courthouse for the detention hearing. It was not immediately clear when Phillipos would be released.

Meanwhile, a funeral director trying to find a cemetery to take the body of Tsarnaev's older brother and alleged accomplice, Tamerlan, pledged to ask the city of Cambridge to allow him to be buried in a city-owned cemetery because the brothers lived in Cambridge for the last decade.

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But Cambridge City Manager Robert Healy said he is urging the Tsarnaev family not to make the request.

"The difficult and stressful efforts of the citizens of the City of Cambridge to return to a peaceful life would be adversely impacted by the turmoil, protests, and wide spread media presence at such an interment," Healy said in a statement Sunday.

Funeral director Peter Stefan said hasn't been able to find a cemetery in Massachusetts willing to accept the remains of Tamerlan, who was killed following a gunbattle with police four days after the bombings.

He said if Cambridge turns him down, he will seek help from state officials. Stefan said he was looking outside of Massachusetts and does not think Russia will take the body.

Governor Deval Patrick said the question of what to do with the body is a "family issue" that should not be decided by the state or federal government. He said family members had "options" and he hoped they would make a decision soon.

He declined to say whether he thought it would be appropriate for the body to be buried in Massachusetts.

"We showed the world in the immediate aftermath of the attacks what a civilisation looks like, and I'm proud of what we showed, and I think we continue to do that by stepping back and let the family make their decisions," the governor told reporters.

Phillipos is accused of lying to investigators about visiting Dzhokhar Tsarnaev's college dorm room on April 18, three days after the bombings. Two other friends were charged with conspiring to obstruct justice by taking a backpack with fireworks and a laptop from Tsarnaev's dorm room. All four had studied at UMass Dartmouth.

The Tsarnaev brothers are accused of carrying out the bombings using pressure cookers packed with explosives, nails, ball bearings and metal shards. The attack killed three people and injured more than 260 others near the marathon's finish line.

Dzhokhar Tsarnaev was captured and remains in a prison hospital. He has been charged with using a weapon of mass destruction and faces a potential death sentence if convicted.

- AP

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