Jury is ready; motion lingers to move trial (5/20)May 20, 2005
St. Petersburg Times
Defense attorneys say Sami Al-Arian cannot get a fair trial.
By Bill Varian
Link: Click hereTAMPA - A jury has been selected to consider charges that former University of South Florida professor Sami Al-Arian supported terrorism, but his attorneys still say the trial should be moved.
Attorney William Moffitt has argued that there is a widespread bias against his client around the Tampa Bay region that will be reflected in any jury selected here.
"There's nothing that happened in there that dissipated my view of it," Moffitt said outside the federal courthouse in downtown Tampa on Thursday, at the end of four days of jury selection.
"It is a panel that I believe has some preconceptions about my client," he said.
U.S. District Judge James Moody has yet to rule on the request by Al- Arian and one of his three co-defendants to move the trial out of Tampa. He may rule as soon as today. The trial is scheduled to begin June 6 if Moody rejects the request.
After exercising a series of strikes to remove potential jurors, attorneys chose 12 from a pool that had been whittled to 89 people from an original field of 500.
The jury consists of six men and six women, including four people who have either served in the military or have family members who have. One woman has a brother currently serving in Iraq.
Attorneys also selected 10 alternate jurors, a number that may be reduced to six or seven people who would replace any jurors who fall off the panel during the trial, expected to last six months or longer.
Only limited information about the jurors is available. The judge has ordered that their names be kept secret and has sharply limited reporters or other onlookers from disseminating information that would identify them to friends and co-workers.
Alternates also will not be told they are replacements to ensure everyone in the jury box pays attention.
Several protesters gathered outside the courthouse at noon to urge the judge to move the trial, citing fears of bias. Pointing to a study presented by the defense, they noted that 95 percent of people polled in Tampa have heard of Al-Arian or the allegations against him. Of those, 60 percent said he is definitely guilty or probably guilty.
"That will make if very difficult for a jury in the Tampa Bay area to be fair and impartial," said Ahmed Bedier, director of the Central Florida branch of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, Florida.
...Clues about the jurors were gleaned from three days of questioning sessions between the lawyers and the jury prospects, shown on closed-circuit television at the courthouse. Moody has yet to rule on whether he will release the 26-page questionnaires each panelist filled out that was designed to find out their biases.
One woman selected for the jury said her father served in World War II, and that she has an ex-husband who served a civilian role with the U.S. Navy. She belongs to an environmental group and a veterans advocacy group.
Another juror, the one with a brother serving in Iraq, is a native of Vietnam, a fact she said helps her appreciate misconceptions people have about other cultures.
A man on the panel said he is a member of a national group that advocates gun rights and has a wife who is retired from law enforcement. Another is a former reservist who served before the Gulf War.
The jury also includes a woman who said she was surprised to learn that a "gentleman" of Al-Arian's stature could be involved in what is alleged.
Attorneys spent three days questioning jury prospects about the case, which has gotten international attention and was the subject of bruising campaign attacks during the race for U.S. Senate last year. Some jurors said the publicity had shaped their feelings and ability to be fair, and were removed. Others were removed because of the financial or medical hardship serving for months would pose.
Al-Arian's wife, Nahla Al-Arian, watched much of the jury questioning, often mouthing silent words with her eyes closed.
"I was praying to God to protect us from this difficult ordeal," she said. "And to find fair-minded people in a community that is very biased. It's up and down my feelings, because I see nice people around me. Then I see these jury questionnaires that are full of hatred."