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Al-Arian jurors switched for deliberations

A juror accused of making pro-government remarks is replaced by the alternate who complained about him.

Published November 15, 2005

TAMPA - As the Sami Al-Arian trial headed to the jury Monday, the judge made an abrupt change that could affect the outcome.

U.S. District Judge James S. Moody announced that a juror whom two other jurors had accused of being biased in favor of the government would not take part in deliberations. He was replaced by an alternate juror who complained about him in late August.

The two jurors who complained said the juror in question, who wore Hawaiian shirts, had made "pro-government comments" and appeared to have "already made up his mind" that Al-Arian was guilty.

Moody announced Monday that the "Hawaiian shirt" juror was now an alternate. The next alternate in line then joined the jury, which begins deliberations this morning.

Former federal prosecutor and criminal defense attorney Neal Sonnett, who is not involved in the case, said the juror change could affect the results: "It appears a juror with a possible bias has been replaced with a juror sensitive enough to report that possible bias. This could shift the course of deliberations."

Moody's concluding comments to jurors Monday were brief: "Parts of this trial have been more exciting than others. When I finish, you'll go to the jury room and begin your discussions." He then read the jurors instructions to follow during their deliberations.

The essence of what jurors will have to decide in the 51-count case: whether terrorism was supported by money that Al-Arian, Sameeh Hammoudeh, Ghassan Ballut and Hatem Fariz raised through the school and other organizations and sent to Israel's Occupied Territories for charitable purposes, sometimes linked to the Palestinian Islamic Jihad.

Prosecutors say the money did. Defense attorneys say the money didn't.

"If you run with the pack, you're in," federal prosecutor Cherie Krigsman told jurors, referring to the defendants' link to the PIJ.

"What's criminal about feeding the needy?" asked Al-Arian defense attorney Bill Moffitt.

Jurors will have to decide guilt or innocence based on nine years of FBI wiretaps of defendants' phone conversations and faxes, a warehouse of documents taken from their homes and offices, videos of their words, money moving through their accounts and over 70 witnesses.

The government's case is circumstantial. At no time did the evidence show a direct link between terrorist activity and the defendants. But prosecutor Terry Zitek told jurors Monday morning if they approach the case with the assumption that a "PIJ cell was operating right here in Tampa" and went on from there, everything would fall into place.

When the prosecution and defense had finished, the judge gave instructions to the jury: "Every defendant must be presumed to be innocent," he began. "The burden is on the prosecution to prove guilt beyond a reasonable doubt."

Among the jury - six men and six women, plus five alternates - nine members are over age 50, three are African-Americans, one is Vietnamese-American and two are disabled. One of the jurors is an educator, another a truck driver and yet another an employee of the U.S. military.

When Judge Moody asked if anyone on the jury wanted to start deliberating Monday, nobody raised a hand and several shook their heads no.

--Times staff writer Jennifer Liberto contributed to this report.

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