Agents due back on stand in trial of accused Boston bomber's friend

Reuters News
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Posted: Oct 07, 2014 7:05 AM

BOSTON (Reuters) - Law enforcement agents who interviewed a friend of the accused Boston Marathon bomber in the days after the deadly blasts are due to testify on Tuesday as the friend stands trial on charges of lying to investigators.

U.S. prosecutors contend that the friend, 21-year-old Robel Phillipos of Cambridge, Massachusetts, lied about accompanying two other men to the suspect's college dorm room three days after the attack that killed three people and wounded more than 260 and removing a backpack containing fireworks.

Defense attorneys in opening statements on Monday said that Phillipos had spent much of that day, April 18, 2013, smoking marijuana and had little recollection of what he did, but that law enforcement agents interrogating him had refused to accept that answer.

Dwight Schwader, a special agent with the U.S. Department of Transportation who interviewed Phillipos as part of the massive investigation, testified on Monday that the defendant told him he did not remember going to Tsarnaev's dorm room at the University of Massachusetts at Dartmouth.

"Initially his responses were always, 'I don't remember, I don't remember taking items,'" said Schwader, who is due back on the witness stand at the trial at U.S. District Court in Boston on Tuesday. "We told him that his story just didn't make any sense."

Jurors are also expected to hear from FBI Special Agent John Walker, who also interviewed Kazakh exchange students Dias Kadyrbayev and Azamat Tazhayakov, who prosecutors contend accompanied Phillipos to Tsarnaev's room hours after the FBI released photos of Tsarnaev and his older brother, identifying them as suspects.

Tazhayakov was found guilty by a jury of obstruction of justice for removing a backpack containing fireworks shells from Tsarnaev's room and Kadyrbayev has since pleaded guilty to the same charge.

Phillipos faces up to 16 years in prison if convicted.

Tazhayakov, who did not testify during his own trial, will take the stand as a prosecution witness, lawyers said on Monday.

Phillipos, Tazhayakov and Kadyrbayev are not charged with playing any role in the bombing.

Tsarnaev, 21, faces the death penalty if convicted of carrying out the bombing. His older brother, Tamerlan, died after a gun battle with police three days after the April 15, 2013 bombing.

(Reporting by Scott Malone; Editing by Eric Walsh)