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Another mistrial in Florida terrorism case

April 17, 2008|Vanessa Blum | South Florida Sun-Sentinel

FORT LAUDERDALE, FLA. — The controversial terrorism prosecution of six South Florida men again ended in uncertainty Wednesday after the second jury selected to hear the case became so divided over the evidence that it could not agree on any verdicts.

Weary prosecutors gave no immediate indication whether the government would try the case a third time.

Given the serious nature of the allegations, it could be difficult for the Justice Department, which has made fighting terrorism its top priority, to abandon charges that the men sought to join forces with Al Qaeda in attacks against Chicago's Sears Tower and Miami's FBI headquarters, former prosecutors said.

U.S. District Judge Joan Lenard said she would hold a conference with attorneys to discuss a possible retrial.

"The United States will announce its position on this matter at that time," said Alicia Valle, special counsel to the U.S. Attorney's Office in Miami.

Lenard granted the mistrial on the 13th day of deliberations after the jury of seven men and five women said they were hopelessly deadlocked. An earlier trial in the so-called Liberty City 7 case ended similarly, with jurors acquitting one defendant and reaching no verdicts for the other six.

Prosecutors argued that it was premature to order a mistrial and suggested jurors be instructed to continue deliberating. Lenard disagreed, saying, "At this juncture it is clear to me that this jury is unable to reach a verdict."

Kendall Coffey, a former U.S. attorney in Miami, said consecutive mistrials were uncommon but no legal rule barred a third prosecution.

"It's not a game where good sports walk away," he said. "If prosecutors believe they have evidence of a serious terrorist plot, they shouldn't give up unless a conviction becomes hopeless."

Miami defense lawyer Milton Hirsch said the government should try to reach plea deals or drop the charges instead of expending additional resources to retry the case.

The case is already estimated to have cost several million dollars, including investigative expenses, fees for court-appointed defense lawyers and prosecutors' salaries.

The defendants were charged with conspiring to support Al Qaeda, to blow up buildings and to wage war on the U.S. government.

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