(Updates with judge agreeing U.S. will pay legal costs)
By Scott Malone
BOSTON, March 6 (Reuters) - A U.S. judge on Thursday agreed to have a federal program pay the legal expenses of a man charged with helping the accused Boston Marathon bomber cover his tracks, but rebuffed his attorney’s request to have two lawyers on the defense team.
Robel Phillipos, of Cambridge, Massachusetts, is one of three college friends of accused bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, who prosecutors contend removed evidence, including a laptop computer and empty fireworks shells, from his dorm room three days after the blasts that killed three people and injured 264.
Magistrate Judge Marianne Bowler said in a four-minute hearing at U.S. District Court in Boston that Phillipos, because of financial need, is qualified to have his legal expenses covered and agreed to keep attorney Derege Demissie, who has been representing Phillipos since his arrest, on the case.
She rejected Demissie’s request to also have his partner assigned to the case, despite the attorney’s plea that he may have to prepare for as many as 40 witnesses in a trial due to begin in June.
“I don’t see this to be of such a great complexity that it needs more than one attorney at a time,” Bowler said.
Phillipos is one of three friends of Tsarnaev who went to the accused bomber’s room at the University of Massachusetts at Dartmouth three days after the 2013 incident, when the FBI released pictures of Tsarnaev and his older brother, Tamerlan, identifying them as suspects in the blasts.
The Tsarnaev brothers are also accused of shooting dead a university police officer three days later, during an attempt to escape the city.
Phillipos, wearing a brown suit, sat quietly in the courtroom, looking at the ceiling. He has been charged with lying to investigators and faces up to 16 years in prison, if convicted.
After the proceedings, Demissie issued a statement saying he was “pleased” the court had appointed him to the case and that not having his partner approved “will not affect the vigorous and strong defense Mr. Phillipos will receive at trial.”
The two other defendants in his case are Kazakh exchange students, Dias Kadyrbayev and Azamat Tazhayakov. They face the more serious charge of obstruction of justice and could face 25 years in prison, or deportation, if convicted.
All three have pleaded not guilty.
The trial of Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, 20, on terrorism charges that carry the threat of execution, has been set for November.
Tamerlan Tsarnaev, 26, died when his brother ran him over with a vehicle following a gunfight with police several days after the bombing. (Reporting by Scott Malone; editing by Gunna Dickson)