Criminal Justice

Mistrial in Muslim Charity-Funding Case

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In a case that was widely viewed as a test of Bush administration anti-terrorism policy, a federal judge in Dallas declared a mistrial today on numerous charges against five individuals. They were accused of working for a charity that was allegedly a front for overseas terrorist activities, and the charity itself was also a defendant in the case.

After 19 days of deliberation, the jury had reportedly reached a verdict on many of the approximately 200 counts at issue in the case late last week, and apparently intended to acquit three individual defendants after deadlocking on the other two. But when the verdict was announced in court today and the jury was polled, a number of jurors said they did not agree with portions of it, reports the Washington Post. As a result, U.S. District Judge A. Joe Fish declared a mistrial on some counts and recognized the acquittal as valid on others.

The Holy Land Foundation for Relief and Development was once the nation’s largest Muslim charity. It and the five former officials have been accused of raising millions of dollars to fund overseas terrorism, following an investigation that lasted over a decade. The trial had been ongoing since July.

“Defense lawyers argued that the five men of Palestinian descent were essentially accused of guilt by association, with the government trying to convict them on the basis of their political sympathies rather than on any evidence of crimes,” the newspaper notes. “None of the five was accused of participating in a violent act.”

All defendants except one are naturalized United States citizens.

The prosecution has signaled that it intends to retry the case, which could lead to life prison terms upon conviction, reports Reuters.

But today’s verdict casts doubt on the government’s approach to the case, a Georgetown University constitutional law professor tells the New York Times.

A trial, “they have to put their evidence on the table, they can’t convict anyone of anything,” says professor David Cole. “It suggests the government is really pushing beyond where the law justifies them going.”

Dallas Morning News (“Holy Land Foundation mistrial another misstep for U.S. government”)

Dallas Morning News (“Muslim charities, religious leaders call verdict a relief”)

Dallas Morning News (“Holy Land came to U.S. attention 14 years ago”)

U.S. News & World Report (“Mistrial is a setback for the government in its largest terrorist funding case”)

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