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Al-Arian attorney, FBI agent lock horns

The near-fight, during a court break, occurs as the attorney berates a woman prosecutor over evidence.

Published September 14, 2005

TAMPA - Fists clenched and screaming at one another, an FBI agent and a defense attorney at the Sami Al-Arian trial squared off Tuesday after court adjourned for lunch.

"You'd better get out of my face, or you and I are going to have some serious problems," Al-Arian's defense attorney, William Moffitt, yelled at FBI Agent Kerry Myers.

U.S. marshals and attorneys quickly stepped in between the two men.

The argument started at the beginning of the lunch break with the judge and jurors out of the courtroom. Moffitt had a brief exchange with prosecutor Cheri Krigsman about documents that had not been translated for the defense, but were translated and shown to jurors on a large projection screen, just before the break.

Moffitt complained that the defense is supposed to be able to look over what jurors see, before they see it. He told Krigsman he wanted to question the translator, who was there.

Krigsman told him he could only talk to the translator in her presence because, she said, "you'll beat up on him."

Angrily waving his copy of the documents, which were in Hebrew, Moffitt said: "I won't beat up on him. I have to ask him some questions."

Krigsman looked at him and hesitated.

What happened next was fast: Moffitt waved his hand toward Krigsman in disgust. She lost her balance, almost falling over.

Myers, who is part of the prosecution's team, dashed toward Moffitt.

"Leave her alone," he screamed, moving within inches of Moffitt's face. "She's a female! She's a female!"

The two men stood, chest to chest, yelling at one another, fists clenched but not raised. That is when marshals and attorneys stepped in.

Moffitt screamed: "This is unfair! You didn't get us the translation or we wouldn't have to do this. You want to put a guy in jail for life, so you cheat! You cheat all the time." As he said it, he pitched papers toward Krigsman and they landed on the floor.

"Geez," she said. "Calm down."

An officer from Israel's Interior Ministry had supplied the papers and testified in Hebrew about them, through a translator. As he talked, prosecutors projected English translations of the records on a large screen for jurors to see. But defense attorneys had not been given these translations.

The papers came from the official Israeli census database and showed a linear family tree that connected four Palestinian Islamic Jihad members, who killed three Israeli soldiers in 1992, to four Palestinian families who received money - $1,994 each - from Sami Al-Arian in 1993.

Since the former University of South Florida professor and three co-defendants are charged with funneling money to Palestinian Islamic Jihad in Israel and the occupied territories so the PIJ could carry out violent acts against Israelis, the 1993 money transfers and the relationship of the recipients to the killers is very important to the prosecution - so important that it brought a witness from Israel to testify about it.

Whether the money Al-Arian sent to the killers' families, a year and a half after the killings, constitutes encouraging future terrorist acts is something the jury will have to decide. But prosecutors wanted to make sure jurors had official information from the Israeli ministry to help them do that.

And Al-Arian's livid defense attorney wanted to make sure he got a look at prosecutors' evidence - even if it was after jurors saw it.

[Last modified September 14, 2005, 02:15:34]

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