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Robel Phillipos wasn't too high to win a video game, Tsarnaev friend testifies

Azamat Tazhayakov, 20, recounted how he lost an Xbox NBA video game to his friend Robel Phillipos, before they want to the dorm room of bombing suspect Dzhokhar Tsarnaev.

Defendants Dias Kadyrbayev (L) and Azamat Tazhayakov are pictured in a courtroom sketch, appearing in front of Federal Magistrate Marianne Bowler at the John Joseph Moakley United States Federal Courthouse in Boston on May 1, 2013. Credit: Reuters Defendants Dias Kadyrbayev (L) and Azamat Tazhayakov are pictured in a courtroom sketch, appearing in front of Federal Magistrate Marianne Bowler at the John Joseph Moakley United States Federal Courthouse in Boston on May 1, 2013. Credit: Reuters

A man who says he was too high to remember the removal of a backpack from the college dorm room of the Boston Marathon bombing suspect was alert enough to win a video game that same night, a key prosecution witness testified on Wednesday.

Azamat Tazhayakov, 20, recounted how he lost an Xbox NBA video game to his friend Robel Phillipos, before they went to the dorm room of bombing suspect Dzhokhar Tsarnaev.

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"I don't remember him having a problem," Tazhayakov said of Phillipos' victory in the game.

Phillipos, 21, is on trial after being charged with lying to investigators probing the April 15, 2013, attack that killed three people and injured more than 260. His defense lawyer told a jury on Monday that Phillipos could not have lied to the FBI about visiting the room and removing a backpack because he was too intoxicated that day by marijuana to remember his actions.

Tazhayakov testified that Phillipos smoked pot that night.

Phillipos, of Cambridge, is one of three people who prosecutors say went to Tsarnaev's room at the University of Massachusetts at Dartmouth on April 18, 2013, after the FBI released images of the Tsarnaev brothers, and removed a backpack containing empty fireworks shells.

Tazhayakov already has been convicted of obstructing justice for removing fireworks from the dorm room. He said Phillipos was sitting next to him in the dorm room when another friend, Dias Kadyrbayev, opened the backpack and showed them empty tubes of fireworks. Kadyrbayev openly speculated that the contents of the fireworks could have been used to make a bomb, Tazhayakov testified.

Tazhayakov and Kadyrbayev were both Kazakh exchange students at the university. Tazhayakov said they spoke to each other in Russian, but also frequently used English around Phillipos.

Tazhayakov said he didn't remember what language was used when Kadyrbayev talked about the firework shells. But he did say Phillipos was with them when they took it. Earlier in the day, they realized that Tsarnaev was a suspect in the case after his picture appeared on news broadcasts, Tazhayakov said.

FBI agents testified earlier this week that Phillipos initially denied visiting Tsarnaev's dorm room three days after the bombing attack. He later changed his story and admitted to being there, prosecution witnesses testified at U.S. District Court in Boston.

But defense lawyers argued that Phillipos had no memory of his actions, suggesting that investigators badgered him into a confession.

On Tuesday, Tazhayakov said prosecutors told him that testifying in Phillipos' proceedings could lower his sentence. He faces up to 25 years in prison.

Kadyrbayev pleaded guilty in August to obstruction charges after reaching a deal with prosecutors that would cap his sentence at seven years.

Phillipos could be sentenced to up to 16 years in federal prison if convicted of lying to investigators.

Neither Tazhayakov and Kadyrbayev, nor Phillipos is accused of playing any role in the bombing.

Dzhokhar Tsarnaev faces trial in November on terrorism charges. His brother, Tamerlan, died in a shoot-out with police after the bombing.

 
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