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Lodi Terrorism Conviction Was a Rout, Jury Says

April 27, 2006|Rone Tempest and Eric Bailey | Times Staff Writers

SACRAMENTO — The scorecard read like an NBA blowout.

By the time the jury finished voting on each piece of evidence, the score was 135-40 for the prosecution.

Hamid Hayat, the 23-year-old Lodi man charged with attending a terrorist training camp in Pakistan and lying about it, was convicted on all four counts.

The systematic way the jurors moved through the charges during nine days of deliberation was detailed Wednesday by jury foreman Joe Cote, a 64-year-old retired medical equipment salesman from Folsom.

"We scored the entire evidence and testimony," Cote said the day after the conviction, "and it was overwhelmingly in favor of guilt."

Key to the jury's decision, Cote said, were Hayat's own words on an FBI videotape that he had attended a camp, his comments secretly recorded by an undercover informant that indicated Hayat's "willingness" to go for training and a handwritten warrior's prayer in Arabic found in his wallet.

"He got himself in pretty deep. He buried himself," said juror Starr Scaccia, 53, an administrative assistant from Roseville, in describing the five-hour videotaped interrogation.

Scaccia said she was also swayed by an Urdu language scrapbook that Hayat kept with news about militant Pakistani political parties, many of them strongly anti-American.

Despite the unanimous verdict, Cote and other jurors interviewed Wednesday said that outcome was far from certain when they began deliberations April 12.

What tipped the balance, Cote said, was when the jury had a second opportunity to review the videotaped interrogation.

The videotape was first shown early in the nine-week trial. Cote and others said that at the time they had some concerns about the leading questions and pressure tactics used by the FBI interrogators.

By the second viewing last week, he said, the jurors had been able to digest all of the other evidence. They had also received an instruction from U.S. District Judge Garland E. Burrell stating that "the government may utilize a broad range of schemes and ploys to ferret out criminal activity."

Going into the end of deliberations Friday, there was still one juror holding out for acquittal on the most important charge: that Hamid Hayat provided material support for terrorism by attending a terrorism training camp in Pakistan in late 2003.

Shortly after 4 p.m. Friday, Cote sent Burrell a note about the dissenting juror.

"There is impasse with a juror who does not seem to fully comprehend the deliberation process. I'm available to discuss this with you and counsel at any time," Cote wrote.

After consulting with attorneys from both sides, Burrell ordered the note sealed and instructed the jury to continue deliberations.

Cote would not identify the balky juror but said that the note was a mistake on his part, born out of fatigue. "I think I may have chosen the wrong language," Cote said. "That was the end of the day, end of the week. My God, my brain was fried."

On Monday, the holdout juror joined the others for conviction. By Tuesday, they reached a unanimous verdict, guilty on all four counts.

That the panel went from a possible deadlock to a unanimous verdict so quickly caused Hayat's lawyer Wazhma Mojaddidi to cry foul, suggesting undue pressure. "It is suspect that after only two days of deliberation," she said, "that this juror suddenly decided to convict. Especially since the only response was to continue deliberations."

But Cote and others denied any ganging up. No one put any pressure on the juror, Cote said. She came to her guilty verdict simply by "thinking about it over the weekend."

Scaccia agreed, saying the reluctant juror "was trying to do it her own way. She was working it through. She was still processing it. You've got to live with what you end up deciding. She had to take her time."

In the end, said juror Lori Macias, 46, a Fairfield real estate agent, the panel tallied up their scorecard and sided overwhelmingly with the government.

But there were times, Macias said, when watching the videotaped interrogation that jurors wondered why Hayat, instead of subjecting himself to hours of exhaustive questioning, didn't ask for a lawyer. "What person in their right mind does all that and doesn't ask for a lawyer?" Macias said. "I mean, we wouldn't have been there if he had."

Cote said the jury reached its verdict with "a heavy heart."

"There was no happiness in it," Cote said. "We all felt bad about it. But we had to do it. It's like a life wasted."

The tall, broad-shouldered foreman acknowledged he didn't believe, judging by Hayat's mild demeanor in court and his recent marriage, that the young Lodi resident posed much of a danger. But then he thought of the faces of the terrorists caught on video before last summer's London bombings. He thought they looked just as nonthreatening.

Scaccia said she hoped the jury verdict would be a deterrent in the war on terrorism. "I hope it gets the message out: Don't mess with the United States," she said. "It's not worth it."

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