A Yemeni man charged with piracy for his role in the hijacking of a yacht off the coast of Africa that resulted in the deaths of four Americans decided not to take a plea deal Monday.
Mounir Ali was scheduled to plead guilty to piracy in federal court on Monday. But his attorney, Jim Theuer, told a federal judge that Ali had changed his mind, saying he was forced to join a band of Somali pirates against his will.
"His decision today is a knowing and voluntary one," Theuer said.
If convicted, Ali faces a mandatory sentence of life in prison.
Ten Somali men in the case decided to plead guilty to piracy in exchange for the possibility that they could serve less time than that and eventually be deported back to Somalia. In exchange, they agreed to help prosecutors with this case and possibly others.
The owners of the Quest, Jean and Scott Adam of Marina del Rey, California, along with friends Bob Riggle and Phyllis Macay of Seattle, were shot to death in February several days after being taken hostage several hundred miles (kilometers) south of Oman.
Prosecutors don't believe Ali or any of the 10 men who have pleaded guilty shot the Americans.
They said that three men who shot the Americans and already face piracy charges would likely face additional capital charges by the end of next week. By not pleading guilty, it is possible Ali could also face additional charges.
Each of the Somali men who pleaded guilty signed statements saying that Ali — who was previously a pirate hostage — willingly joined them when they hijacked the American yacht in exchange for a share of the profits they intended to make by ransoming the Americans.
But Theuer said Ali tells a different story. He claims he was part of a group of 26 Yemenis on three ships who were taken hostage by Somalis in late 2010. Theuer said Ali was taken to Somalia and forced to work for pirates there.
He said he was part of the Somali crew when it hijacked another Yemeni boat, which it used as a mother ship to capture the Americans.
"He was not a willing and voluntary participant," Theuer said.