A judge declared a mistrial after a jury deadlocked Thursday on whether a San Diego student lied about his associations with a Sept. 11, 2001, hijacker in the days after the terrorist attacks.
The jury in federal court in Manhattan could not decide whether Osama Awadallah, 25, lied to a grand jury investigating the attacks after an old phone number of his was found in a hijacker’s car.
U.S. District Judge Shira Scheindlin declared the mistrial after the jury indicated in a note that further deliberations would not result in a verdict.
Awadallah declined to comment afterward. His lawyer, Jesse Berman, said the mistrial “shows that there are doubts to the government’s case.” He said Awadallah was disappointed that there was not a full acquittal.
Prosecutors asked Scheindlin for a new trial date as early as possible, but one was not immediately set.
The case against Awadallah, a San Diego State College student, had faced a bumpy road even before the trial began three weeks ago.
Detained as a material witness
Awadallah was detained as a material witness in the terrorism probe after FBI agents went to his San Diego apartment nine days after the attacks to ask him about his associations with Nawaf al-Hazmi, a hijacker on the plane that hit the Pentagon.
The government alleged that he admitted his associations with al-Hazmi but initially denied to a grand jury that he knew al-Hazmi’s friend, Khalid al-Mihdhar, a second hijacker.
In 2002, Scheindlin tossed out two perjury charges against Awadallah, saying the government had used “duress or coercion” to get him to consent to FBI interviews and a lie detector test in the probe.
The charges were reinstated by the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, which said a jury could find that Awadallah was not forthcoming about what he knew about the hijackers.
The jury was repeatedly warned that Awadallah was not accused of participating in terrorism.
Berman had told jurors that his client met al-Hazmi at a San Diego gas station where both of them briefly worked and at a mosque.
‘He just got it wrong’
He said Awadallah initially denied he had written the name of al-Mihdhar in a school exam book but realized his mistake and corrected it five days later at his next grand jury session.
“He just got it wrong and corrected it right away,” Berman said of his client’s testimony on Oct. 10 and Oct. 15, 2001.
Berman said prosecutors confronted Awadallah with a fuzzy fax rather than the actual exam booklet and that Awadallah wanted to be sure he was accurate.
Born in Caracas, Venezuela, and raised in Jordan, Awadallah moved to the United States in 1999 to begin college. His father and three brothers had moved to the United States years earlier.
Scheindlin said before the trial that if Awadallah was convicted, he could face deportation but little or no prison time.