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Jurors begin deliberations in Al-Arian trial

After 22 weeks, the panel of 12 must decide whether the former university professor is guilty of aiding Palestinian terrorists.

Published November 15, 2005

TAMPA - Jurors for the federal trial of Sami Al-Arian and three co-defendants began deliberating Tuesday, after 22 weeks in court. To give them more room and some exercise, U.S. District Judge James S. Moody told them they could move between their jury room and the courtroom, where dozens of boxes of evidence sit.

This back-and-forth gives them a larger workspace, so they're not confined to the 16-by-18-foot jury room, where they spent much of their time during the four-day-a-week trial. During this time, they brought things to make it more homey: jigsaw puzzles of rural scenes, playing cards, books, fashion magazines and shopping catalogs, which are still strewn across a large wooden table and around the room. They made coffee, heated food and washed dishes as they waited during breaks.

But now the waiting is over, and it's up to them to decide the future of the four defendants. Former University of South Florida professor Al-Arian, Sameeh Hammoudeh, Ghassan Ballut and Hatem Fariz are charged with conspiring to raise money for Palestinian Islamic Jihad, a terrorist organization in Israel and the occupied territories.

Defense attorneys say money went to charity. Prosecutors say if it went to charity linked to the PIJ, which has claimed responsibility for hundreds of deaths, no distinction should be made between charity and terrorism.

Twelve jurors and two alternates will meet to debate this between 8:30 a.m. and 4 p.m. Monday through Thursday, for as long as it takes to reach a decision. While trial-watchers speculated Tuesday about how long deliberations would take, jurors set up a temporary work schedule until Thanksgiving.

They elected a foreman and asked the judge about a list of evidence. Moody told them they had everything they needed to reach a verdict. Today, they continue deliberating.

[Last modified November 15, 2005, 19:37:02]

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