U.S. judge rejects terrorist charge

1 count of indictment against 3 men in Fla. dropped as repetitious

August 22, 2006|By MCCLATCHEY-TRIBUNE

MIAMI -- When Jose Padilla was charged in a South Florida terror-cell indictment in November, U.S. authorities boasted their case was rock solid.

But in a stunning decision, a federal judge in Miami has lopped off a big chunk of the indictment, saying the government wrongly overcharged the notorious former "enemy combatant" and two other Muslim men.

In a written order released yesterday, U.S. District Judge Marcia Cooke threw out the first count of the indictment - that Padilla and the others "conspired to murder, kidnap and maim persons in a foreign country ... to advance violent jihad" abroad - saying it repeated charges from two other counts.

The ruling also could wipe out possible life sentences if Padilla, Adham Amin Hassoun and Kifah Wael Jayyousi are convicted at trial, scheduled for late January.

"There can be no question that the government has charged a single conspiracy offense multiple times, in separate counts, when in law and in fact only one alleged crime has been committed," Cooke wrote in an eight-page ruling.

The dismissal of a first count in an indictment is unusual but does not mean the government's case can't be won on the remaining terror-conspiracy charge. Prosecutors and defense lawyers routinely spar over charges before trial, striving to gain a tactical edge before presenting their cases to a jury.

The decision - a major pretrial victory for defense attorneys Jeanne Baker, Kenneth Swartz, William Swor, Michael Caruso, Orlando do Campo, Anthony Natale and Andrew Patel - was the latest blow to the government's high-profile case.

"From the outset, the government has overcharged our client," Baker and Swartz, who represent Hassoun, said in a joint statement.

The U.S. attorney's office is likely to appeal, which could delay the Jan. 22 start of the trial.

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