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U.S. Asks to Void Terror Convictions

September 01, 2004|From Associated Press

WASHINGTON — The Justice Department asked a judge Tuesday to throw out the convictions of a suspected terror cell in Detroit because of prosecutorial misconduct, reversing course in a case the Bush administration once hailed as a major victory in the war on terrorism.

In a late-night filing, the department told U.S. District Judge Gerald Rosen that it supports the Detroit defendants' request for a new trial and would no longer pursue terrorism charges against them. That means the defendants at most would only face fraud charges at a new trial.

The Justice Department is "concurring in the defendants' motions for a new trial" and asks the court to dismiss the first count of the original indictment charging the defendants with material support of terrorism, according to a summary of the government's filing that was obtained by the Associated Press.

The filing said there was a 60-page memo laying out the government's concerns about its own prosecutors' handling of the case, but that document was not immediately available through the courts' electronic access.

The department's decision came after a monthslong independent investigation uncovered several pieces of evidence that prosecutors failed to turn over to defense lawyers before the trial last year and exposed deep differences within the government over the course of the case and the quality of the prosecution's evidence.

Legal sources familiar with the 60-page investigative memo attached to Justice's filing, speaking only on condition of anonymity because the judge has imposed a gag order, said it harshly criticizes Assistant U.S. Atty. Richard Convertino, the lead prosecutor in the case.

Convertino has been under investigation for months and filed a whistle-blower lawsuit against Atty. Gen. John Ashcroft earlier this year. In an interview with the AP, Convertino accused Justice Department superiors of thwarting his efforts to introduce some evidence against the defendants at trial.

Convertino's lawyer, William Sullivan, declined comment Tuesday night, citing the judge's gag order. However, a lawyer for one of the defendants hailed the development.

"If indeed it does throw out the convictions, it's obviously the right thing to do," said James R. Gerometta, an attorney who represents Karim Koubriti.

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