Student trial put off until April 28

Lawyers for the two Egyptians sought the continuance.

By Kevin Graham, Times Staff Writer
Published February 28, 2008

TAMPA - The federal explosives trial for Youssef Megahed and Ahmed Mohamed was postponed Wednesday until April 28.

The suspended University of South Florida students were scheduled to stand trial Monday before U.S. District Judge Steven Merryday. But defense attorneys asked for a continuance.

Linda Moreno, Mohamed's attorney for less than a month, said she needs more time to review evidence in the case and consult with explosives experts and a computer analyst busy combing through two hard drives.

And Merryday acknowledged that U.S. Magistrate Judge Mark Pizzo is still considering a recommendation on a defense motion to suppress key evidence.

Defense attorneys argued last week that a South Carolina sheriff's deputy improperly detained Megahed, 21, and Mohamed, 26, when he stopped them Aug. 4 in Goose Creek, S.C., for speeding. Lyann Goudie, one of Mohamed's attorneys, said Mohamed never gave his consent for Berkeley County sheriff's Cpl. James Lamar Blakely to search the vehicle.

The defense wants Pizzo to recommend that anything seized during Blakely's search be thrown out as evidence.

When Blakely searched the car, he found a partial box of .22-caliber bullets beneath a car seat, and in the trunk he found what experts described as low-grade explosives.

The FBI says the men were carrying pipes stuffed with fertilizer, Karo syrup, kitty litter and fuses. Megahed and Mohamed say they were traveling with sugar rockets.

Both men have been charged with illegally transporting explosive materials. Mohamed faces an additional charge for demonstrating how to make an explosive device.

Megahed and Mohamed have remained in custody since their August arrest. Mohamed has never asked for bail. Megahed's request for bail was denied on an appeal.

His attorneys have again asked Merryday to release him pending trial, saying that an FBI report on the materials in the trunk show the mixture was not as harmful as prosecutors initially alleged.

Moreno, who represented former USF professor Sami Al-Arian at his terrorism-related trial, wants Merryday to allow the use of a jury questionnaire similar to one she wrote that was used for Al-Arian's trial.

Moreno and Adam Allen, Megahed's public defender, said a questionnaire is necessary because the case has been highly publicized, locally and abroad, and people already have formed opinions.

"One thing you don't have to worry about is I'm not going to let any defendant in my court be tried by a biased jury," Merryday said.

Kevin Graham can be reached at kgraham@sptimes.com or 813 226-3433.