PORTLAND — The federal judge presiding over the case of Portland bomb-plot suspect Mohamed Osman Mohamud is refereeing a slew of legal requests in advance of his trial, including whether to limit the government’s use of such terms as “terrorist,” “martyrdom” and “jihad.”
Mohamud’s lawyers say it’s necessary to help ensure he gets a fair trial. They also say that to offset any potential prejudice he could face as a Somali American, they should get an extra half-dozen chances to reject prospective jurors in jury selection.
Mohamed Mohamud was arrested in an FBI sting and is accused of trying to detonate a weapon of mass destruction at a Portland Christmas tree lighting in November 2010, when he was 19. His trial is scheduled for January, and he faces a possible life sentence.
“In post-9/11 America, in which the topics regarding Islam and terrorism are highly charged,” his lawyers wrote, “the allegations in this case make it exceptionally difficult to find untainted jurors who can both presume Mr. Mohamud’s innocence and fairly consider a nuanced entrapment defense.”
Prosecutors also are making some pretrial requests. They want permission to take jurors on a field trip into the parking garage of Portland’s federal courthouse, to show them what a van loaded with an inert 1,800-pound bomb looks like, and they want to keep secret the identities of two undercover FBI operatives who posed as terrorists to make friends with Mohamud. Letting the jury observe what Mohamud saw “is also important because the fact-finder needs to assess just how genuine and serious the situation would have appeared to defendant on that day,” they say.
U.S. District Judge Garr M. King is expected to rule on several of the requests next month.
The requests from both sides were included among hundreds of pages of briefs, motions and other documents filed recently in advance of Mohamud’s Jan. 15 federal trial.
The suspect’s lawyers acknowledged for the first that Mohamud indeed tried to ignite the bomb, but say he acted under the direction of the FBI’s phony terrorists. They have mounted an entrapment defense, saying the government manipulated a conflicted teen into a crime he wouldn’t have committed on his own.
Such defenses are difficult to win in federal court; prosecutors can overcome it by showing that the defendant was predisposed to commit the crime, and that the government merely offered him the chance to do so.
Prosecutors want the judge to protect the identities of the operatives who befriended Mohamud in the FBI sting. They are asking King to allow them to use their pseudonyms (Hussein and Youssef); testify in light disguises, such as changing their facial hair; and prohibit the defense from asking questions that might reveal personal information.
They also want to bar the public and news media from the courtroom when the operatives testify. They are asking the judge to set up a public gallery in another room with a live video feed of the proceedings, but they don’t want the public to see images of the operatives as they testify.