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Robel Philippos: Verdict Watch

The jury has been deliberating for an hour in in the trial of Robel Philippos,the friend of Dzhokhar Tsarnaev who is charged with lying to the FBI. Closing arguments were held this morning.

Prosecutors say Phillipos, 21, lied to investigators about his whereabouts and what he saw on April 18, 2013, when he and two friends allegedly visited Tsarnaev’s dorm room and removed a backpack of evidence after the marathon bombings. After several interviews, Phillipos signed a written confession admitting he had lied and that he regretted doing so.

Phillipos’s defense team contends that he was a scared 19-year-old at the time who was “high out of his mind” during interviews with investigators and could not remember clearly. The confession, they argued, was coerced by investigators.

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Tsarnaev Friend's Trial Opens with Stoner Defense

Opening arguments began today in the trial of Robel Phillipos, the third friend of Dzhokhar Tsarnaev to be charged with a crime related to the removal of items from Tsarnaev's dorm room after Tsarnaev was identified as a suspect in the Boston Marathon bombings.

He is charged with making false statements to the FBI. His defense: He was "stoned out of his mind."

Friend Azamat Tazhayakov was found guilty of obstruction of justice at a trial in July; Dias Kadyrbayev pleaded guilty to obstruction in August. Neither have been sentenced yet. A fourth friend, Steven Silva, is awaiting trial on gun charges.

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Silva, Silva and Tsarnaev: A Confusing Story

Yesterday the feds arrested Stephen Silva of Cambridge, MA for heroin dealing and possession of a firearm with a partially obliterated serial number. Leaks from law enforcement claimed the gun is the one used to kill a Cambridge police officer days after the Boston Marathon bombings.

In June, the Judge in Dzhokhar Tsarnaev's case said he was very concerned about leaks but declined to issue a gag order. He should be more concerned now. As should the judge in Silva's case, since Silva isn't charged with anything related to the bombing, the Tsarnaev's or the officer's shooting.

He was charged with unlawful possession of a gun that had an altered or obliterated serial number. That police say it's the same gun that killed the officer says nothing about how the Tsarnaev's got it. Silva could have given it to any number of people who might have given it to the Tsarnaevs. Or, maybe someone paid a drug debt to Silva with the gun, and not being into guns, he sold it the next day, and his buyer sold or gave it to Tsarnaev.

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Obstruction Trial Begins for Tsarnaev's Friend Azamat Tazhayakov

In opening arguments today in the trial of Azamat Tazhayakov, one of the two friends of accused Boston Marathon bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev who is charged with obstruction of justice and conspiracy to obstruct justice Azamat's lawyer, Nicholas Woolridge, told the jury, "I hope you give this kid a shot."

Woolridge also told the jury that it was Dias Kadyrbayev,who will be tried at a later date, who took the backback from Jahar's dorm room back to their apartment, and that it was Dias' girlfriend, who will testify under a grant of immunity from prosecution, who told Dias to get rid of it. Woolridge said Dias only told Azamat about getting rid of the backpack after the fact. [More...]

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Tsarnaev Trial: Change of Venue Request

Dzhokhar Tsarnaev has requested a change of venue to Washington, D.C. The judge has not yet ruled on the motion.

Since Mass. does not have a death penalty, many thought the defense would prefer to have the trial there, notwithstanding the pretrial publicity. But the expert surveys conducted by the defense showed Mass. residents presumed Tsarnaev guilty in greater numbers than residents of other places:

Attorneys said they had enlisted an expert to survey public opinion in four cities: Boston, Springfield, Mass., New York City and Washington. Respondents were asked a series of questions, including whether they believed Tsarnaev was "definitely guilty, probably not guilty or definitely not guilty" of the April 2013 bombings that left three dead and more than 260 wounded.

In Boston, 58% said they believed Tsarnaev was definitely guilty, as did 52% in Springfield and 48% in Manhattan. Only 37% in Washington said the same.

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Tsarnaev: Judge Slams Govt's Attempt to Use "Betrayal of US" as Aggravating Factor

The federal judge in the Dzhokhar Tsarnaev case has denied the Government's request to include "betrayal of the U.S." as an aggravating factor in the penalty phase of his trial, calling the attempt "highly inappropriate."

Federal prosecutors have argued, in part, that Tsarnaev, now 20, deserves the death penalty because he betrayed his allegiance to the country that granted him asylum and, later, citizenship.

The defense countered with:

"(I)n not one of the 492 cases before Mr. Tsarnaev's has the government cited the fact of a defendant's American citizenship, the way he became a citizen, any aspect of his immigration history, or his enjoyment of the freedoms of an American citizen as a reason to sentence him to death,"

The Judge ruled it was "highly inappropriate" for prosecutors to draw a distinction between a "naturalized" and "natural-born" U.S. citizen.[More...]

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Government Releases Tsarnaev's Scrawled Boat Note

The Government responded to several of Dzhokhar Tsarnaev's motions today. In its response to his motion to suppress statements, it reprinted what Jahar has scrawled while hiding inside the boat:

I’m jealous of my brother who ha[s] [re]ceived the reward of jannutul Firdaus (inshallah) before me. I do not mourn because his soul is very much alive. God has a plan for each person. Mine was to hide in this boat and shed some light on our actions. I ask Allah to make me a shahied (iA) to allow me to return to him and be among all the righteous people in the highest levels of heaven. He who Allah guides no one can misguide. A[llah Ak]bar!

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Tsarnaev Defense Seeks Discovery on FBI Visits to Tamerlan

Defense lawyers for Dzhokhar Tsarnaev filed a 23 page motion for discovery Friday. You can read it here.

The motion, which seeks a lot of information about Tamerlan and the family's history, is an attempt to get the Government to turn over documents that could be used as mitigation evidence in the death penalty phase to show Dzhokhar fell under the spell of his over-powering brother. The defense says it is asking for:

...any evidence tending to show that Tamerlan (Tsarnaev) supplied the motivation, planning, and ideology behind the Boston Marathon attack, and that his young brother acted under his domination and control … .”

The motion doesn't claim the FBI tried to get Tamerlan to be an informant. It says it has information from its interviews of family members that the FBI met with Tamerlan before his trip to Russia on more than one occasion and that the family said the FBI tried to get Tamerlan to be an informant. It's trying to find out if the the Government is in possession of information that supports the family's statements. [More...]

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Tsarnaev Defense Renews Request for "Taint Team" and Lifting of SAM's

Dzhokhar Tsarnaev's defense lawyers have filed a motion (available here) renewing its request to lift the SAMs (special administrative measures) imposed by the Bureau of Prisons and to compel the Government to use a "taint team." The motion says "the defense is encountering obstacles related to FBI monitoring of family visits and BOP screening of materials that defense counsel need to review with the defendant."

When Dzhokhar Tsarnaev is visited by one of his sisters, the SAMs restrictions on him require the visit be monitored by the U.S. Marshals Service, Bureau of Prisons or FBI, so that the Government can determine if the visit is being used to pass messages soliciting or encouraging acts of violence or other crimes, or some other purpose that would violate the SAMs. The Government has recently said that an FBI agent present during a visit with one of his sisters heard Jahar make an inculpatory remark.

The original SAMs are here, and the defense argument against them is here and here. The modifications previously ordered by the Court are here.[More...]

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Dzhokhar Tsarnev Trial Set for November

The judge in the Boston Marathon bombing trial of Dzhokhar Tsarnaev has set his trial to begin November 3, 2014. The defense had asked it begin in September, 2015.

The defense says the FBI has yet to turn over 2,000 pieces of physical evidence still being analyzed.

The defense has until June to decide on whether to seek a change of venue.

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U.S. to Seek Death Penalty for Dzhokhar Tsarnaev

The United States will seek the death penalty for Dzhokhar Tsarnaev. It filed a notice today (available on PACER) listing the statutory aggravating factors and non-statutory aggravating factors. Among the non-statutory factors:

1. Betrayal of the United States. DZHOKHAR TSARNAEV received asylum from the United States; obtained citizenship and enjoyed the freedoms of a United States citizen; and then betrayed his allegiance to the United States by killing and maiming people in the United States.

2. Encouragement of Others to Commit Acts of Violence and Terrorism. In conjunction with committing acts of violence and terrorism, DZHOKHAR TASARNAEV made statements suggesting that others would be justified in committing additional acts of violence and terrorism against the United States.

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ACLU Files Brief Opposing Tsarnaev Prison Restrictions

Dzhokhar Tsarnaev is challenging the restrictive prison SAMS (special administrative measures) BOP imposed on his prison communications, including those with his attorneys. The ACLU filed this Amicus Brief today.

Among the restrictions: Defense attorneys have to pre-clear any documents they want to show Jahar with the Government. The Boston Herald reports:

In an affidavit attached to the filing, one of Tsarnaev’s lawyers stated that during a prison visit he was forbidden to show Tsarnaev photographs related to preparing his defense because they contained images of family members, which he is barred from seeing.

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Dzhokhar Tsarnaev Seeks End to " SAMS" Restrictions

Dzhokhar Tsarnaev's lawyers have filed a motion to end the SAMS restrictions on Tsarnaev and his legal team.

The SAMS imposed on Tsarnaev are attached to the motion as an exhibit. Take a minute to read them. But for all the alphabet references to federal agencies, I would have thought the jail was in Russia. The motion is here.

The documents also contain some interesting Government theories about Dzhokhar, some of which are at odds with other information released by the Government (the motion discusses this aspect.)

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New Tsarnaev Injury Photos Released

Boston Magazine, which first published the leaked arrest photos of Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, has published another 48 images from the arrest scene. Like the earlier photos, these were taken by Sergeant Sean Murphy.

In this photo, an injured Dzhokhar lifts his sweatshirt. Presumably, this was in response to a request by law enforcement to show he did not have a bomb strapped to his chest. In this photo, you can see the number of agents with guns trained on him as he descended from the boat. This photo shows injuries to his face and hand while still on the boat.

Here's a video in which you can hear the barrage of shots fired at Tsarnaev, who was unarmed.

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DzhokharTsarnaev's Injuries

A few documents were unsealed in the Dzhokhar Tsarnaev case, including the transcript of his advisement at the hospital two days after his capture. The trauma surgeon attending to him told the judge:

He has multiple gunshot wounds, the most severe of which appears to have entered through the left side inside of his mouth and exited the left face, lower 18 face. This was a high-powered injury that has resulted in 19 skull-base fracture, with injuries to the middle ear, the skull base, the lateral portion of his C1 vertebrae, with a 21 significant soft-tissue injury, as well as injury to the pharynx, the mouth, and a small vascular injury that's been treated. He has, in addition to this, some ophthalmologic injuries that have been treated.

He has multiple gunshots wounds to the extremities that have been treated with dressings to the lower extremities; and in the case of his left hand, he had multiple bony injuries as well that were treated with fixation and soft-tissue coverage, as well as tendon repair and vascular ligation.

He was questioned for two days before this hearing, without being advised of his right to counsel. He was also being administered Diluadid, a potent pain killer, every three hours.

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