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Jury pool cut to about 160

A lawyer for former USF professor Sami Al-Arian doubts he can get a fair trial from the current batch of potential jurors.

By MARCUS FRANKLIN
Published March 10, 2005


TAMPA - Lawyers in the terrorism-related trial of a former University of South Florida professor and three other men finished the screening Wednesday of more than 300 juror questionnaires.

By the time the sparring stopped among attorneys, federal prosecutors and U.S. District Judge James Moody, the potential pool had been whittled down to about 160, from which the final jury could be named.

Still, Linda Moreno, one of the attorneys for former professor Sami Al-Arian, said she doubted her client could get a fair trial using jurors from the current batch, which she described as pervaded by "racial bias and religious intolerance."

"They've made up their minds," Moreno said of the potential jurors. "They have no ability to listen to the evidence in a fair and impartial manner, which is fundamental. He's presumed innocent. None of those jurors talked about presuming Dr. Al-Arian innocent.

"Dr. Al-Arian is entitled to a presumption of innocence. He cannot enjoy that constitutional right in this community at this particular historical time."

The four defendants are set to stand trial in May on charges they had roles in supporting, promoting and raising money for a terrorist group called Palestinian Islamic Jihad. Besides Al-Arian, the others are Sameeh Hammoudeh, Ghassan Ballut and Hatem Fariz.

Moreno reiterated that she will seek to have the trial, which is expected to last six months, moved from Tampa.

Al-Arian and Hammoudeh, both wearing orange Hillsborough County jail jumpsuits, sat in the courtroom on Wednesday under the eyes of U.S. marshals.

The court sent about 500 questionnaires. About 322 were returned.

Thumbing through the questionnaires, defense attorneys asked Judge Moody to remove some potential jurors, frequently citing bias and medical or financial hardships. Jurors will get $40 a day for the first 30 days and $50 a day after that, plus lunch and transportation reimbursement.

Some potential jurors said they think Muslims, Arabs and Palestinians are more violent than others and commit disproportionately more crimes. Some thought Palestinians were responsible for the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, although most of the hijackers were from Saudi Arabia. Some feel Al-Arian is, at least, "sympathetic" to terrorists.

"I don't like the man," one wrote on the questionnaire.

Another potential juror said he couldn't serve because his father once worked with the lead FBI agent in the case. And others called former USF president Betty Castor an "idiot" for allowing Al-Arian to remain in his post while he was under investigation.

Some attacked the U.S. government, which one prospective panelist blamed for the terrorist attacks. Defense attorney Kevin Beck read from the questionnaire: "This case is a waste of taxpayer money stolen from me." In that instance, Judge Moody denied Beck's challenge and allowed the prospective juror to remain in the pool. "I'm going to let him come in and tell us in person," Moody said.

Also Wednesday, defense attorneys sought to allow Al-Arian more room at the Hillsborough County Orient Road Jail in preparation for trial.

Marcus Franklin can be reached at mfranklin@sptimes.com or 727 893-8488.

[Last modified March 10, 2005, 01:14:16]


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