A substance abuse specialist testified Friday that Robel Phillipos, a friend of the Boston Marathon bombing suspect, could have smoked enough marijuana in one day to affect his recall of events.
Dr. Alan Wartenberg was the final defense witness in the trial of Phillipos, who is accused of lying to federal investigators about what he was doing the night of April 18, 2013, a few days after the Marathon bombing. Phillipos, who turns 21 on Saturday, did not take the stand, and jurors were told to return to court Tuesday for closing arguments.
Wartenberg’s testimony was considered critical for defense attorneys, who are trying to show that Phillipos’ use of marijuana on that April day was so extensive that it impaired his ability to recall what he did. Two friends who were with him that night have been convicted of obstruction of justice for going throwing away a backpack containing fireworks that they had taken from Dzhokhar Tsarnaev’s dorm room in an effort to protect him.
Defense attorney Susan Church asked Wartenberg about the impact on a young man’s brain if he smoked marijuana a half-dozen times over 12 hours, including using a vaporizer, which Phillipos is alleged to have done that day.
“It would impair memory, executive function and judgment, as well as other potential cognitive functions,” testified Wartenberg, who has worked in addiction recovery programs at Faulkner Hospital in Boston.
Wartenberg also testified that while marijuana smoking rarely causes blackouts, it can create “spotty” memories.
Under cross-examination by prosecutor Stephanie Siegmann, the physician acknowledged that he never physically examined Phillipos on April 18, 2013, nor any time after that, to judge how marijuana affects Phillipos. She also probed the financial arrangement that brought him to the witness stand, eliciting testimony that he is paid about $200 an hour, and he estimates his total bill will be about $4,000 for 20 hours of work.
When asked if he only testifies as a paid expert on behalf of the defense, Wartenberg replied that he is mostly hired by defense lawyers because they, not prosecutors, tend to seek him out.
On Thursday, former Governor Michael Dukakis stunned the gathering by testifying for the defense, saying his wife and Phillipos’ mother are longtime friends. He said he has seen Phillipos, whose character he praised, grow up. Dukakis testified about a cell phone conversation he had with Phillipos on April 20, 2013 during which the former UMass-Dartmouth student seemed “confused” after extensive questioning by the FBI.
For the most part, prosecution witnesses were federal agents who testified about Phillipos’ alleged false statements over multiple interviews in a one-week span, allegedly to conceal his involvement in the scheme to dispose of the backpack.
Most of the defense witnesses have been Phillipos’ college friends who smoked pot or texted with him on April 18, 2013. That day triggered disbelief and panic among many of Tsarnaev’s friends who recognized Tsarnaev in the photos of the bombing suspects that had been newly released by the FBI. Shortly after the images appeared on TV, the two Tsarnaev brothers went on the run, allegedly killing an MIT police officer along the way. The older brother, Tamerlan, died hours later in a shootout with police in Watertown.
Tsarnaev, who was captured the next day in a boat stored in backyard, is scheduled to go to trial early next year. He faces a potential death penalty if convicted of setting off two bombs that killed three and injured 260 others.
Patricia Wen can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.