Boston academics vouch for Boston bomber’s friend ahead of his release on bail

Patrick Howley Political Reporter
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Robel Phillipos, the 19-year old classmate of Boston Marathon bombing suspect Dzhokar Tsarnaev who was charged with lying to federal investigators, gained release from custody with the help of a number of supportive affidavits from Boston-area academics and humanitarians close to his mother, according to a copy of his bond request obtained by the Daily Caller.

Prosecutors agreed Monday that Phillipos could be released on $100,000 bond with a monitoring ankle bracelet while he awaits trial.

Phillipos was taking a semester off from the University of Massachusetts at Dartmouth on April 18, when he returned to campus for a seminar and allegedly spent time at the apartment of UMass-Dartmouth students Dias Kadyrbayev and Azamat Tazhayakov, who are both charged with conspiring to obstruct justice. Kadyrbayev and Tazhayakov allegedly removed Tsarnaev’s backpack from his dorm room after the bombing.

Phillipos is charged with making “misrepresentations” to federal investigators.

The affidavits presented in support of the bond request portray Phillipos as a kind, intelligent 19-year old with a love of Kobe Bryant and Revolutionary War history. They also emphasize his extracurricular activities including his one-time visit with Democratic congressman Michael Capuano as a member of the Cambridge Kids’ Council. Phillipos was also selected to attend the National League of Cities Convention in 2010 and 2011.

Phillipos was influenced by the “weight of the federal government” when he was interrogated without counsel, according to the motion.

Phillipos did not have an attorney present in any of his conversations with federal investigators, which the motion described as “intense questioning and interrogation.”

“The weight of the federal government under such circumstances can have a devastatingly crushing effect on the ability of an adolescent to withstand the enormous pressure and respond rationally,” according to the motion.

“The charge has ruined his once bright future. He will suffer its enduring and devastating effect for the rest of his life. The only way he can salvage his future is by clearing his name. He is committed to do just that,” according to the motion.

Phillipos’ mother Genet Bekele — an Ethiopian refugee who holds a master’s degree in social work from Boston University and worked for a refugee resettlement agency and as the director of the emergency shelter at the nonprofit battered women’s shelter Transition House — provided an affidavit in support of her son.

Transition House executive director Risa Mednick also provided an affidavit supporting Phillipos, claiming that she knew Phillipos’ mother when they both worked at Transition House and on the Cambridge Domestic Violence Task Force. Mednick claimed that Phillipos had a “surprisingly nuanced understanding of how social issues impact families and youth.”

Wellesley College art professor Salem Mekuria also provided an affidavit defending Phillipos.

“Robel’s mother is one of the most humanitarian and generous beings I know. Having experienced hardship as a refugee after escaping from an oppressive military regime, she has been working tirelessly to help others with similar experiences,” Mekuria said in an affidavit.

Martha Goldberg, a sponsored programs administrator at Harvard’s John F. Kennedy School of Government, also defended Phillipos and stated that many employees of the International Institute of Boston knew the young man.

“I met Genet fifteen years ago as a coworker at the International Institute of Boston. I knew all about Robel as she would talk about him and many of the other staff members knew him. We were all proud of him because he was a really sweet, smart kid,” Goldberg testified in her affidavit.

The International Institute of Boston is part of the International Institute of New England — a resettlement agency that places refugees in housing, including Iraqi immigrants in recent years.

The International Institute of New England received $3,972,479 in government grants, according to its 2010 annual report. In 2010, the Institute counted among its funders the U.S. Department of Education, U.S. Department of Labor, U.S. Department of Justice – Office for Victims of Crime, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services – Administration for Children and Families, U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, Massachusetts Department of Housing and Community Development, the Massachusetts Office of Refugees and Immigration, the New Hampshire Department of Education, and the state of New Hampshire. Donors included Bank of America and Goldman Sachs.

Boston University lecturer Telahun Gebrehiwot, an instructor in the Saturday program for the community that Phillipos attended, also defended Phillipos and said, “I believe in my heart that Robel is a decent and innocent individual that doesn’t involve himself in such activities.”

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