Top court won't hear ex-prof's appeal

/ Source: The Associated Press

The U.S. Supreme Court on Monday turned away an appeal from a former Florida professor once accused of being a top Palestinian terrorist.

The high court's decision eliminates one of two major impediments that have stalled prosecutors from bringing Sami Al-Arian to trial for refusing to testify to a grand jury in northern Virginia investigating terror financing.

Al-Arian, who once taught computer science at the University of South Florida, struck a plea bargain in 2005 admitting that he conspired to assist the Palestinian Islamic Jihad, specifically by helping a family member with links to the group get immigration benefits and by lying to a reporter about another person's links to the organization.

The plea bargain came after a lengthy trial in Florida failed to obtain a conviction on more serious charges alleging that Al-Arian had been one of the leaders of the Palestinian Islamic Jihad.

Al-Arian argued that the terms of his plea bargain barred the government from demanding his testimony in other terror cases because the usual language requiring cooperation had been stricken from the plea agreement.

But the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Atlanta disagreed with Al-Arian's interpretation, and on Monday the U.S. Supreme Court refused to intervene.

In Alexandria, Virginia, U.S. District Judge Leonie Brinkema had postponed Al-Arian's trial, saying that his appeal on the scope of the plea agreement should be resolved first.

But the other impediment to Al-Arian's contempt of court trial remains: Brinkema has questioned whether prosecutors properly drafted the paperwork ordering Al-Arian to testify to the northern Virginia grand jury. She is expected to hear arguments on that issue in the next few weeks.

Al-Arian, who served nearly five years in prison following his conviction in the Florida trial, could face up to life in prison if convicted of contempt of court. His attorney, Jonathan Turley, said he was disappointed by the high court's action, but remained optimistic about the overall strength of his client's case.