Speed of jury's response surprises defense lawyers

March 06, 1994|By New York Times News Service

NEW YORK -- The day after the jury in the World Trade Center case returned guilty verdicts on every defendant and on every count, the surprising thing seemed to be not so much the results of the trial, but the speed with which the eight women and four men on the jury came to those results.

"That was a bit discouraging to me," said Robert Precht, the lawyer for Mohammed Salameh. "Frankly, I was surprised that they came back so quickly and so uniformly against all of the defendants."

How did the jury, which sat through nearly five months of testimony, see the case? Did it have any difficulty reaching its verdicts after only six days of deliberations?

The names of the jurors in the five-month-long World Trade Center trial were kept secret. But one juror, who did not give his name, was interviewed on New York 1, the cable television news station, and he provided some clues about how the jury saw the case.

He stressed the contrast between the prosecution, which he said "presented enormous amounts of evidence," and the defense teams, which, as the juror put it, "presented nothing in rebuttal."

"Not that they had to," the juror continued. "However, the fact that we saw so many visual IDs, so much evidence, so much paper trail -- as Americans we're used to paper trails everywhere, linking us everywhere.

"These guys never thought for a moment about the fact that they had paper trails, and it choked them to death."

To some of the defense lawyers, reached by phone yesterday, the juror's remarks to New York 1 and the quickness of the decision indicated that the government had been successful when it asked the jury to look at the case as a whole.

With the convictions of all four defendants in the bombing, law-enforcement officials are now preparing for a far more tangled case: the prosecution of Sheik Omar Abdel Rahman and at least 13 other defendants charged with plotting to blow up city landmarks and assassinate political leaders.

While celebrating the verdict, federal anti-terrorist agents said they were continuing to investigate a number of other suspects linked through surveillances and wiretaps to figures in both cases.

Defense lawyers conceded last week that the guilty-on-all-counts verdict against the three Palestinians and an Egyptian charged with planting the huge bomb that crippled lower Manhattan last year could have a spillover effect, if only psychological, to the second case and other federal prosecutions.

Lawyers said it could also help prompt some guilty pleas or persuade witnesses to come forward and testify for the government.

"It's a classic two-step: you get them, and it's easier to get the others," said Rep. Charles E. Schumer, D-N.Y., chairman of the House Crime and Criminal Justice Subcommittee.

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