DALLAS — The trial of a U.S.-based charity accused of financing Middle Eastern terrorists took a twist Wednesday when jurors indicated that a member of the panel was refusing to vote.
Jurors in the case against the Holy Land Foundation for Relief and Development were called back into the courtroom, where the judge said they had a duty to try to reach a decision. The jurors' were in their ninth full day of deliberations.
Holy Land — the largest U.S. Muslim charity when the government shut it down in December 2001 — and five of its former leaders are accused of illegally aiding the Palestinian militant group Hamas, which the U.S. government designated a terrorist organization in 1995.
If jurors cannot reach a decision, the judge told them, the case would be tried again, adding to the cost for both the government and defendants.
Such jury instructions are usually reserved for deadlocked juries. Prosecutor James Jacks objected Wednesday, apparently believing it was too early for the judge to use such a tool.
During the trial, prosecutors said Holy Land funneled millions to Hamas through Palestinian charities secretly controlled by the militant group. They said some of the money went to families of suicide bombers.
Defense lawyers said Holy Land was a legitimate charity helping families suffering because of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. A former U.S. diplomat in Jerusalem testified he was never told that the Palestinian charities were controlled by Hamas.
The defendants could face maximum sentences of life in prison if convicted.
Shari Diamond, a law professor and jury expert at Northwestern University, said some defense attorneys have criticized the use of deadlock-breaking jury instructions, although she does not believe they necessarily prod juries to convict defendants.
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