The searing memories of the Sept. 11 attacks are making it difficult for dozens of potential jurors to set aside their opinions in the terrorist support case against alleged al-Qaida operative Jose Padilla.
One man said on a juror questionnaire that he believed Padilla and his two co-defendants were guilty and cited only one reason: “9/11.”
The infamous date of the al-Qaida suicide hijackings that killed nearly 3,000 people is peppered throughout the more than 440 detailed questionnaires returned as of Thursday by potential jurors for the trial of Padilla, Adham Amin Hassoun and Kifah Wael Jayyousi. The jurors’ names were not made public.
The defendants are accused of being part of a North American support cell that funneled recruits, money and supplies to Islamic extremist groups around the world. All three have pleaded not guilty and face potential life prison sentences, with trial scheduled to begin April 16.
“After the 9/11 acts and other acts around the world, it would be difficult to listen and not think they are guilty,” a 23-year-old woman wrote in her questionnaire. “I cannot tolerate terrorism. It’s time to put a stop to it.”
159 potential jurors excused
Federal prosecutors and defense lawyers agreed Thursday to excuse 159 people who expressed such sentiments on the questionnaires or had obvious hardships involving family or jobs. At a hearing, U.S. District Judge Marcia Cooke decided one by one whether to keep or remove nearly 100 others the two sides could not agree on.
Cooke said her test wasn’t whether a juror had some feelings or opinions about terrorism or the Sept. 11 attacks, but whether they would be able to be fair and follow the law.
“I think any right-minded person would have negative feelings about 9/11. It’s whether they can put their feelings aside and decide this case,” she said.
Jurors who make it through this questionnaire-only round will be brought to court for a more intensive jury selection process before testimony begins. Ultimately 12 jurors and six alternates will be chosen for a case expected to last four to six months.
Dirty bomb allegations not part of case
Several potential jurors mentioned the prior U.S. allegations that Padilla was involved in an al-Qaida plot to detonate a radioactive “dirty bomb” in a major city. Padilla, a U.S. citizen, was held for 3½ years without criminal charge as an enemy combatant after his 2002 arrest, but the Miami indictment does not include the “dirty bomb” allegations.
“I’ve seen on TV that the defendant Padilla wanted to detonate a dirty bomb,” a 44-year-old man wrote. “I haven’t formed an opinion because I don’t know all the facts.”
Other jurors said they link the Islamic faith and Arabs with the 2001 attacks as well as terrorism or global violence in general.
“I try to keep an open mind but it’s difficult with so many Arabs tied to terrorist organizations,” wrote a 27-year-old man.