NEW YORK (AP) – A federal judge said Thursday he might use two juries at an embassy bombings trial next year so that evidence against one defendant won’t taint jurors hearing the case against the others.
U.S. District Judge Lewis A. Kaplan raised the possibility during a pretrial conference for two defendants extradited from Great Britain and a third snatched off the streets of Tripoli in October and brought to New York to face charges in the 1998 bombings at U.S. embassies in Africa that killed 224 people, including a dozen Americans.
At the hearing, Kaplan rejected defense requests that he separate the trial of Abu Anas al-Libi from a trial for Adel Abdel Bary and Khaled al-Fawwaz, who were extradited from Britain last year.
As he set a Nov. 3 trial date, Kaplan said two juries would allow him to send one jury out of the room if evidence was going to be introduced that might jeopardize the fairness of the trial to other defendants.
Bernard Kleinman, an attorney for al-Libi, had told the judge in a letter that he objected to the government’s request for a joint trial. He said his client was only accused of participating in visual and photographic surveillance of the U.S. embassy in Nairobi, Kenya, in late 1993 and researching potential sites for other attacks with members of al-Qaida in 1994.
He said the government case against the others claimed activity over a long period of time leading up to and including the August 1998 bombings of embassies in Kenya and Tanzania.
With a single trial, “in the hearts and minds of the jury, he will be lumped together with his co-defendants,” Kleinman wrote.
He added: “This case involves issues much more tinged with emotion and trauma than other cases. The fact that Mr. al-Libi will be tried in New York, barely a half mile from the World Trade Center site, and that Osama bin Laden and al-Qaida will be referenced numerous times in connection with his co-defendants cannot be ignored.”
Bobbi Sternheim, an attorney representing al-Fawwaz, told the judge Thursday she was worried that prosecutors would introduce evidence of events that occurred after the bombings to try to draw “the inference that they are partially responsible for the age of terrorism.”
She said the jury room in Kaplan’s courtroom provides a view of the trade center site and she wanted to exclude from the trial “the most horrific things that occurred, including the bombing of the World Trade Center blocks from here and the aftermath.”
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