DALLAS — Prosecutors will likely retry the former leaders of a Muslim charity, as well as the organization itself, after the government's biggest terror-financing case since Sept. 11 ended in a mistrial.
Not one of the leaders of the Holy Land Foundation for Relief and Development was convicted Monday, but many acquittals were thrown out after three jurors took the rare step of disputing the verdict.
Juror William Neal told The Associated Press that the panel found little evidence against three of the defendants and was evenly split on charges against Shukri Abu Baker and former Holy Land Chairman Ghassan Elashi, who were seen as the principal leaders of the charity.
"I thought they were not guilty across the board," said Neal, a 33-year-old art director from Dallas. The case "was strung together with macaroni noodles. There was so little evidence."
Some jurors were dead-set for convictions even before they began deliberating, Neal said.
"They brought up stuff that wasn't even in the case," he said. "They brought up 9-11."
The jury heard two months of testimony on charges that the Holy Land Foundation for Relief and Development funneled more than $12 million in aid to the Palestinian militant group Hamas. Such aid was illegal after January 1995 because President Clinton branded Hamas a terrorist group.
After 19 days of deliberations, and a bewildering final day in court Monday, jurors returned no convictions against any of the five former leaders of Holy Land, the largest Muslim charity in the country when it was shut down in December 2001.
Former Holy Land chairman Mohammed El-Mezain was acquitted on all but one charge. The judge declared a mistrial on the remaining El-Mezain charge and all counts against the other defendants and the defunct charity itself.
Prosecutor James Jacks said the government would probably try the case again.
‘A stunning setback’
"This is a stunning setback for the government," said a former U.S. attorney, Matthew Orwig. "There is absolutely nothing positive in that verdict today for the government."
During the trial, prosecutors introduced bank records showing Holy Land sent money to groups in Gaza and the West Bank. A lawyer for the Israeli domestic security agency Shin Bet, who testified under a false name, said those groups were controlled by Hamas, which has carried out suicide bombings in Israel.
Prosecutors also offered thousands of pages of documents, many of them translated from Arabic, and hours of videotape that showed Holy Land leaders consorting with Hamas figures. One showed defendant Mufid Abdulqader pretending to kill an Israeli in a skit.
Jurors finally indicated that they had reached verdicts last Thursday. But their decisions were sealed until Monday because federal District Judge A. Joe Fish was out of town.
As Fish read the results, it appeared that jurors had acquitted Abdulqader on all charges, El-Mezain and Abdulrahman Odeh on most charges, and failed to reach decisions on any counts involving Baker, Elashi or Holy Land itself.
But even that partial result was precarious. When the judge polled each juror whether he or she agreed with the verdicts — normally a formality — things turned chaotic, as three jurors disavowed the vote.
Fish sent the jury back to resolve the differences, but after about an hour, they said they could not continue, and the judge declared a mistrial.
Interest in the case ran all the way to the White House. President Bush personally announced the seizure of Holy Land's assets in December 2001, calling the action "another step in the war on terrorism."
The mistrial followed two other high-profile terror-financing trials in Chicago and Florida that also ended without convictions on the major counts.
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