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Lockerbie case is 'all or nothing'

Compiled from Times wires

© St. Petersburg Times, published January 10, 2001

CAMP ZEIST, Netherlands -- In another last-minute surprise in the eight-month Lockerbie bombing trial, the prosecution said in its closing statement Tuesday that it plans to drop all but the most serious charge of murder.

The move followed Monday's equally unexpected decision by the lawyers for the two Libyan defendants to close their case early and offer almost no defense against charges they blew up Pan Am Flight 103 in 1988, killing 270 people. They will rely instead on a strategy that the prosecution failed to prove guilt beyond a reasonable doubt.

"It's all or nothing," said Clare Connelly of the Lockerbie Trial Briefing Unit, a project of Glasgow University Law School, where she teaches. She called the prosecution decision "a sign of confidence." In that view, the prosecution is signaling that it wants only the most serious difficult-to-prove charge to be considered and doesn't want to settle for a guilty verdict on one or other of the two lesser charges: conspiracy and violation of a British aviation law.

But Robert Black of the University of Edinburgh, a leading skeptic of the prosecution case, dismissed that reasoning.

"Interpreting this as confidence is absolutely wrong," he said. "If you can't get murder, you can't get the other two charges. And if you get murder, you don't need the other charges. The prosecution recognized that fact."

The prosecution contends that defendants Abdel Basset Ali Megrahi and Lamen Khalifa Fhimah prepared a suitcase bomb that blew up the Pan Am 747 over Lockerbie, Scotland, killing all 259 people on the plane and 11 on the ground. The maximum sentence is life in prison.

In a concession to the defense, the prosecution proposed deleting a reference in the indictment to Fhimah as a Libyan intelligence agent, and said it wished to refer to him only as a Libyan Arab Airlines employee. The prosecution continues to believe that the other defendant was a Libyan agent.

Lead prosecutor Alastair Campbell, whose circumspect style contrasts sharply with the verbal acid of the defense, painstakingly recapped the evidence his team elicited from 230 witnesses.

The prosecution "proved the case against each accused beyond reasonable doubt," he told the court. "This is a circumstantial case. Evidence comes from a number of sources which when taken together provide a corroborated case both as to the commission of the crime and the identity of the perpetrators."

Campbell is to conclude his closing argument today. The defense begins its argument Thursday.

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