Mass. Funeral Director Chasing Burial Offers

May 7, 2013 - 5:35 AM

Boston Marathon Investigation

FILE - This courtroom sketch shows defendant Robel Phillipos appearing in front of Federal Magistrate Marianne Bowler at the Moakley <pp_img type=

BOSTON (AP) — A Massachusetts funeral director said Monday he has received burial offers for more than 100 out-of-state graves for the body of a Boston Marathon bombing suspect who was killed in a gun battle with police but none are panning out, even as Tamerlan Tsarnaev's mother told him she wants the body returned to Russia.

Worcester funeral home director Peter Stefan said none of the 120 grave offers from the U.S. and Canada, have worked out because, when he calls officials of the cities or towns involved, nobody wants the body.

Stefan also said that, despite the request by Tsarnaev's mother, he doesn't think Russia will take the body. He said he made calls to Russia, but that it was hard to get anyone to respond. He said he is working on other arrangements, but declined to be more specific.

Meanwhile, a friend of the surviving suspect in the bombings was released from federal custody Monday amid a swell of support from family and friends, but was under strict house arrest and only allowed to leave his home to meet with lawyers and for true emergencies. Also, the administrator of the One Fund Boston released the protocol for payouts of the fund, with the families of those who lost loved ones and individuals who suffered double amputations or permanent brain damage in the bombings receiving the highest payments.

The question of where Tamerlan Tsarnaev will be buried dragged on for another day Monday, and the issue seemed far from resolved.

Stefan said he made follow-up calls on all the grave offers, but faced the same result each time.

"It's not only Massachusetts that doesn't want him," Stefan said. "Nobody wants him. And all these people who have donated graves, I've made some calls and said to somebody in the cities and towns where the graves were, 'Hey, we would like to bury the guy there that was part of the marathon bombing.'"

He said the response was often the same: "You're not gonna do that here."

He said he received an offer from a Texas truck driver who didn't want anybody to know that the body would be in the plot he'd be donating, but the outcome was the same.

Stefan said he plans to ask for a burial in the city of Cambridge, where Tsarnaev lived. Cambridge has asked him not to do so.

Cambridge City Manager Robert Healy urged the Tsarnaev family not to make a request.

"The difficult and stressful efforts of the citizens of the City of Cambridge to return to a peaceful life would be adversely impacted by the turmoil, protests, and wide spread media presence at such an interment," Healy said in a statement Sunday.

Stefan said he does not regret taking on the body.

"We're just burying a dead body," he said late Monday. "We're not buying a cause. We're not doing anything else. ... The guy is a terrorist, whatever he is. Still dead."

The founder of the organization that built Colorado's largest mosque, Sheikh Abu-Omar Almubarac, operating independently, is offering to bury Tsarnaev in the Denver area. He didn't say where he would bury the body. Stefan said he was not aware of that offer, but said he might pursue it.

If Russia refuses to accept the body, Cambridge may be forced to take it, said Wake Forest University professor Tanya Marsh, an expert in U.S. law on the disposal of human remains.

Massachusetts law requires every community to provide a suitable place to bury its residents, she said. Cambridge's appeal to the family not to ask it to bury the body is likely a way to set up its defense if the family goes to court to try to force the burial, Marsh said.

Such a case would be unprecedented in Massachusetts, she said. She added that even in a country that's had its share of notorious accused killers, this kind of opposition to a burial is unheard of and is exposing holes in the law, Marsh said.

"It's a mess," she said. "We're really sort of in uncharted territory."

Gov. Deval Patrick said the question of what to do with the body is a "family issue" that should not be decided by the state or federal government. He said family members had "options" and he hoped they would make a decision soon.

He declined to say whether he thought it would be appropriate for the body to be buried in Massachusetts.

"We showed the world in the immediate aftermath of the attacks what a civilization looks like, and I'm proud of what we showed, and I think we continue to do that by stepping back and let the family make their decisions," the governor told reporters.

Tamerlan Tsarnaev's uncle, Ruslan Tsarni, of Montgomery Village, Md., and three of his friends met with Stefan on Sunday to wash and shroud Tsarnaev's body according to Muslim tradition.

Stefan confirmed Monday night that the body had been prepared for burial at any moment.

Tsarni told reporters that he is arranging for Tsarnaev's burial because religion and tradition call for his nephew to be buried. He would like him buried in Massachusetts because he's lived in the state for the last decade, he said.

"I'm dealing with logistics. A dead person must be buried," he said.

As the fate of the body remained unclear, Robel Phillipos, a friend of bombing suspect Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, was released on $100,000 bond while he awaits trial for allegedly lying to federal investigators probing the April 15 bombings.

Phillipos, 19, who was a student at the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth with Tsarnaev, was charged last week with lying to investigators about visiting Tsarnaev's dorm room three days after the bombings. He faces up to eight years in prison if convicted.

Prosecutors initially asked that Phillipos be held while he awaits trial, arguing that he poses a serious flight risk.

But prosecutors and Phillipos' lawyers agreed in a joint motion filed Monday that Phillipos could be released under strict conditions, including home confinement, monitoring with an electronic bracelet and a $100,000 secured bond.

Magistrate Judge Marianne Bowler agreed to the request during a hearing Monday, saying he would be under "strict house arrest," and only allowed to leave his home to meet with his lawyer and for true emergencies.

"We are confident that in the end we will be able to clear his name," defense attorney Derege Demissie said.

Assistant U.S .Attorney John Capin said documents filed over the weekend by Phillipos' defense, including many affidavits showing support from family and friends, might be viewed as indirectly questioning the government's case against Phillipos.

"The government stands by its allegations," Capin said.

Defense attorney Susan Church described Phillipos as a well-liked, honor roll student with many friends and supporters. At least 50 relatives, friends and other supporters attended the court hearing.

Church emphasized that Phillipos is not accused of helping Tsarnaev and his brother plan or carry out the bombings.

"At no time did Robel have any prior knowledge of this marathon bombing," she said.

Two other friends were charged with conspiring to obstruct justice by taking a backpack with fireworks and a laptop from Tsarnaev's dorm room. All four had studied at UMass Dartmouth.

In letters filed in court, friends and family members urged the court to release Phillipos on bail, describing him as peaceful and non-violent.

"I was shocked and stunned when I heard the news of his arrest. I could not control my tears," wrote Zewditu Alemu, his aunt. "I do not believe that my beloved Robel crosses the line intentionally to support or assist such a horrendous act against us the people of the USA. By nature he does not like violence. He loves peaceful environment."

Later Monday, the administrator of a compensation fund outlined a draft protocol for payments from The One Fund Boston, which was created to help people injured in the twin blasts.

Kenneth Feinberg spoke Monday evening at a Town Hall meeting at the Boston Public Library, near the blast site, and said the families of those who lost loved ones and individuals who suffered double amputations or permanent brain damage would receive the highest category of payment.

Those who received physical injuries and suffered the amputation of a limb will be the next highest priority. The fund has raised $28 million to date.

The Tsarnaev brothers are accused of carrying out the bombings using pressure cookers packed with explosives, nails, ball bearings and metal shards. The attack killed three people and injured more than 260 others near the marathon's finish line.

Dzhokhar Tsarnaev was captured and remains in a prison hospital. He has been charged with using a weapon of mass destruction and faces a potential death sentence if convicted.

The state medical examiner ruled that Tsarnaev died from gunshot wounds and blunt trauma to his head and torso, and authorities have said his brother ran him over in a chaotic getaway attempt.

Tsarni has denounced the acts his nephews are accused of committing and said they brought shame to the family and the entire Chechen ethnicity. The brothers are ethnic Chechens from Russia who came to the United States about a decade ago with their parents. Both parents returned to Dagestan last year.

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Associated Press writers Bob Salsberg in New Bedford, Jay Lindsay in Boston and Rodrique Ngowi in Worcester contributed to this report.