A man who was among five Muslim immigrants convicted of conspiring to kill U.S. military personnel at New Jersey's Fort Dix wrote in a letter to the judge that he lied to a government informant and regrets getting himself and his co-defendants in trouble.
Other defendants have written such letters, but Mohamad Shnewer's went into more detail than any others. In his letter, dated Jan. 19 and released this week, he asked U.S. District Judge Robert Kugler to overturn the guilty verdicts handed down by a jury last month.
"I believe the jury's decision was derived from the lies and the allegations that I said about my co-defendants," he wrote.
Shnewer was born in Jordan. One of the other defendants is from Turkey and the others are ethnic Albanians from the former Yugoslavia. All have lived in the Philadelphia area for years.
Weapons and conspiracy charges
The men, all age 30 or younger, were convicted Dec. 22 of weapons charges and conspiracy to kill military personnel. All five of them were cleared of attempted murder.
They could face life in prison when they are sentenced in April. Lawyers for all five have asked Kugler to overturn the verdict, claiming that it was not supported by the prosecution's evidence.
In a trial that lasted more than eight weeks, prosecutors told jurors the men may have been targeting Fort Dix, an Army base being used mostly to train reservists for deployments in Iraq.
Much of the case was built around conversations secretly recorded by a paid government informant. On the tapes, Shnewer and the informant, Mahmoud Omar, talked about attacking Fort Dix or other military installations. They even drove to some of them.
Defense lawyers argued that Shnewer did not intend to go through with any attacks and that the other men did not even know about their conversations.
The letter from Shnewer — a 23-year-old college dropout who drove a cab, did construction work and worked at his family's food market — makes similar points.
"Mr. Omar was well aware that my co-defendants didn't know anything about what he and I spoke about," he wrote, "and that's essentially why he didn't ever approach them directly about the matter."
'I'm full of regret'
Shnewer wrote that he didn't realize until he heard the recordings that he could "fabricate lies in the manner I did."
"I'm full of regret," he wrote.
Neither Shnewer nor the others testified in the trial, but they have not been shy about communicating with the judge. They sent several letters to him before the trial and, so far, four since the verdict was delivered — plus one from the school-age daughter of one of the men, Dritan Duka.
In her letter last week, the girl, Lejla Duka, asked the judge to be lenient when sentencing.
"One thing that I know for sure is that my father and uncles are not terrorist and didn't conspire to do any harm to Fort Dix," she wrote in her typed letter.