Judge won’t move trial of Seattle terror defendant

  • Mon Mar 5th, 2012 5:51pm
  • News

By Gene Johnson Associated Press

SEATTLE — A federal judge said Monday he will not move the trial of a man accused of planning to attack a Seattle military recruiting station out of Western Washington.

Abu Khalid Abdul-Latif was charged last June with conspiracy to murder U.S. officers and to use a weapon of mass destruction, among other charges, after investigators said he joined Walli Mujahidh of Los Angeles in plotting to attack the Military Entrance Processing Station — a plot authorities said was partly inspired by the massacre at Fort Hood, Texas.

Mujahidh pleaded guilty in December. A third man, a felon with a long criminal history, was to supply them with weapons, but alerted Seattle police and continued acting as a confidential informant in the case, prosecutors said.

Lawyers for Abu Khalid Abdul-Latif argued Monday that pretrial news coverage, along with the region’s connection to military bases and defense contractors like Boeing, would make it difficult or impossible to seat a fair jury. The coverage included references to potentially inflammatory details such as Abdul-Latif’s criminal history, alleged Islamic extremism, professed admiration for Osama bin Laden and American-born al-Qaida operative Anwar al-Awlaki, and his attempts to find a second wife, said attorney Erik Levin.

“Many of them are untrue and they would not come in at trial,” Levin said.

Authorities have said many of those details come from the defendants’ own mouths in extensive recordings made by investigators.

The U.S. attorney’s office in Seattle hired pollster Stuart Elway to research how much the news coverage might have tainted the jury pool. Even after the poll’s respondents were told the basics of the case, 71 percent of respondents could not remember hearing about it. There are more than 2 million potential jurors in the region.

Given those results, “We ought to be able to find that 13, 14 or 15 people who can look everyone squarely in the eye and say ‘Yes, I can give a fair trial,”’ U.S. District Judge James L. Robart said, adding that he was surprised by how few people knew about the case.

The trial had been set for May, but Robart said Monday he will delay that at the request of Abdul-Latif’s attorneys, who said they need more time to review documents turned over in discovery. The judge did not set a new date immediately, but the trial is expected to be scheduled for late this year or early next.

The judge said he was not yet prepared to take up another issue in the case: whether the government must turn over classified evidence to the defense. It wasn’t clear what that evidence might consist of, but Assistant U.S. Attorney Todd Greenberg estimated that the evidence comprises fewer than 50 pages of documents.

The government said in a previous court filing that it obtained some evidence in the case via electronic surveillance under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act.