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Florida terrorism case to be retried

April 24, 2008|Vanessa Blum | South Florida Sun-Sentinel

FORT LAUDERDALE, FLA. — Federal prosecutors announced plans Wednesday to retry six Florida men on terrorism charges despite two consecutive mistrials in a case once trumpeted as a success in the government's war on terrorism.

"We've worked very hard this past week, reviewing everything in this case and considering it very, very seriously," prosecutor Richard Gregorie said in Miami federal court. "The United States has decided it's necessary to proceed . . . one more time."

The defendants have been detained since their arrests in June 2006. They are charged with four conspiracy counts stemming from an alleged plot to attack Chicago's Sears Tower and Miami's FBI headquarters.

Acknowledging that two juries have been unable to resolve the case, Gregorie said the U.S. attorney's office would agree to the release of four of the accused on bond.

Having two juries deadlock over the same case has never happened in a major terrorism prosecution, leaving officials in a quandary.

In a statement explaining the government's decision to pursue a third trial, Gregorie said the group's leader had expressed a desire to kill Americans, telling an undercover informant that he wanted to "kill all the devils we can."

U.S. District Judge Joan A. Lenard set a hearing for next week to decide on a new trial date, probably late this year.

The most recent trial in the so-called Liberty City Seven case ended last week after jurors could not agree on verdicts for any of the defendants on any charges. The first trial ended Dec. 13 with one acquittal and a hung jury regarding the other six defendants.

According to prosecutors, Narseal Batiste, a former FedEx deliveryman from Chicago, thought he was a divine messenger sent to overthrow the U.S. government. Lacking the means to carry out attacks on his own, Batiste, 34, recruited the other defendants and sought an alliance with Al Qaeda, prosecutors said.

But defense lawyers told jurors that the supposed terrorist plot was a ruse, and that the men feigned support for Al Qaeda to scam money from a paid FBI informant.

The two trials have cost several million dollars, including fees for court-appointed defense lawyers and prosecutors' salaries. Providing security for the two trials has cost more than $1 million, according to the U.S. Marshals Service.

"Enough is enough," said defense lawyer David O. Markus. "The feds are always saying that they don't have enough resources, so why are they clinging to this money-draining case?"

In addition to Batiste, those charged are Patrick Abraham, 28; Rothschild Augustin, 24; Burson Augustin, 23; Naudimar Herrera, 24; and Stanley Grant Phanor, 32.

They each face up to 70 years in prison if convicted.

Lyglenson Lemorin, 33, of Haiti was acquitted in the first trial but is in custody awaiting deportation proceedings.

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