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Judge Tosses Out One Charge in Shoe Bomb Case

Courts: An airplane is not a vehicle as defined in new anti-terrorism law, he declares. Ruling backs contention of suspect Richard C. Reid's lawyers.

June 12, 2002|From Associated Press

BOSTON — A judge threw out one of nine charges against a man accused of trying to blow up a jetliner with explosives in his shoes, ruling Tuesday that an airplane is not a vehicle under a new anti-terrorism law.

The charge, attempting to wreck a mass transportation vehicle, was filed under the USA Patriot Act, which was passed by Congress after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

U.S. District Judge William Young said that although an airplane can be engaged in mass transportation it is not a vehicle as defined by the new law.

Richard C. Reid still faces eight charges, including attempted murder and attempted destruction of an aircraft. He allegedly tried to light the explosives hidden in his shoes while aboard American Airlines Flight 63 from Paris to Miami three days before Christmas.

Samantha Martin, a spokeswoman for U.S. Atty. Michael Sullivan, declined to comment on the ruling. She said no decision had been made on whether to appeal.

Reid's lawyer, Owen Walker, did not return a call seeking comment.

The judge said he looked to a legal definition of vehicle drafted by Congress in an earlier law known as the Dictionary Act. That defines a vehicle as something used as a means of transportation on land.

The USA Patriot Act was signed into law Oct. 26, giving the government broad powers to fight terrorism. Among other things, it expands the FBI's wiretapping and electronic surveillance authority and gives police wide-ranging powers to search people's homes and business records.

The law punishes anyone who "willfully wrecks, sets fire to, or disables a mass transportation vehicle or ferry."

Reid's attorneys had argued at a hearing last month that there was a defect in the law because it does not clearly define an airplane as a vehicle of mass transportation.

At that hearing, prosecutor Michael Keegan said Congress clearly intended the act to cover violence or terrorism on airplanes.

The ruling came the same day Reid appeared for a hearing on a motion to suppress a confession he made after he was arrested.

His lawyers say the statement was made after he was injected with sedatives, which interfered with his ability to make a voluntary statement.

Prosecutors claim the sedatives had little or no effect on Reid by the time he had a formal interview with police later that day.

The hearing on the confession was scheduled to continue today.

Reid has been held without bail since his arrest Dec. 22. His trial is scheduled to begin Nov. 4.

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