Boston bomb suspect’s pal released pending trial

Published: Tuesday, May 7, 2013 5:30 a.m. CDT

BOSTON – A friend of the surviving suspect in the Boston Marathon bombings was released from federal custody Monday amid a swell of support from family and friends as a Massachusetts funeral director tried to find a place willing to bury a second suspect who was killed after a gun battle with police.

Robel Phillipos, a friend of Boston Marathon bombing suspect Dzhokhar Tsarnaev was released on $100,000 bond while he awaits trial for allegedly lying to federal investigators probing the April 15 bombings.

Meanwhile, a Worcester funeral home director said he was still trying to find a cemetery to bury Tsarnaev’s brother, Tamerlan, who died four days after the bombings. Peter Stefan said he has been turned down by several cemeteries in Massachusetts. He planned to ask the city of Cambridge, where the Tsarnaev brothers lived for the past decade, to allow Tamerlan to be buried in a city-owned cemetery. But Cambridge City Manager Robert Healy urged 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.

On Monday, Stefan said he is looking outside of Massachusetts and does not believe Russia will take the body.

If Russia refuses to accept the body, Cambridge may be forced to take it, said Wake Forest University professor Tanya Marsh, an expert in U.S. law on the disposal of human remains.

Massachusetts law requires every community to provide a suitable place to bury its residents, she said. Cambridge’s appeal to the family not to ask it to bury the body is likely a way to set up its defense if the family goes to court to try to force the burial, Marsh said.

Such a case would be unprecedented in Massachusetts, she said. She added even in a country that’s had its share of notorious accused killers, this kind of opposition to a burial is unheard of and is exposing holes in the law, Marsh said.

“It’s a mess,” she said. “We’re really sort of in uncharted territory.”

Gov. 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 civilization 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, 19, who was a student at the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth with Tsarnaev, was charged last week with lying to investigators about visiting Tsarnaev’s dorm room three days after the bombings. He faces up to 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 prosecutors and Phillipos’ lawyers agreed in a joint motion filed Monday that Phillipos could be released under strict conditions, including home confinement, monitoring with an electronic bracelet and a $100,000 secured bond.

Magistrate Judge Marianne Bowler agreed to the request during a hearing Monday, saying he would be under “strict house arrest,” and only allowed to leave his home to meet with his lawyer and for true emergencies.

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

Assistant U.S .Attorney John Capin said documents filed over the weekend by Phillipos’ defense, 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.

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

Church emphasized 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.

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.

In letters filed in court, friends and family members urged the court to release Phillipos on bail, describing him as peaceful and non-violent.

“I was shocked and stunned when I heard the news of his arrest. I could not control my tears,” wrote Zewditu Alemu, his aunt. “I do not believe that my beloved Robel crosses the line intentionally to support or assist such a horrendous act against us the people of the USA. By nature he does not like violence. He loves peaceful environment.”

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.

Tamerlan Tsarnaev’s uncle, Ruslan Tsarni, of Montgomery Village, Md., and three of his friends met with Stefan on Sunday to wash and shroud Tsarnaev’s body according to Muslim tradition.

Tsarni told reporters that he is arranging for Tsarnaev’s burial because religion and tradition call for his nephew to be buried. He would like him buried in Massachusetts because he’s lived in the state for the last decade, he said.

“I’m dealing with logistics. A dead person must be buried,” he said.

The state medical examiner ruled that Tsarnaev died from gunshot wounds and blunt trauma to his head and torso, and authorities have said his brother ran him over in a chaotic getaway attempt.

Tsarni has denounced the acts his nephews are accused of committing and said they brought shame to the family and the entire Chechen ethnicity. The brothers are ethnic Chechens from Russia who came to the United States about a decade ago with their parents. Both parents returned to Dagestan last year.

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