MIAMI – Just as in the first trial, jurors hit a stalemate in the case against six men accused of scheming to destroy the Sears Tower in Chicago and bomb FBI offices in Miami and elsewhere. They were told to continue deliberating nonetheless.
The jury said Friday in a terse note issued on their 10th day of deliberations that they cannot agree on the guilt or innocence of any of the accused men.
"We are unable to come to a unanimous decision on any of the counts for all of the defendants," the note read.
The first trial in the "Liberty City Seven" case also ended in a mistrial in December because of a hung jury for alleged ringleader Narseal Batiste and the five other defendants. One man was acquitted by the first jury, but the Bush administration intends to deport him to Haiti.
Batiste attorney Ana M. Jhones unsuccessfully asked U.S. District Judge Joan Lenard to declare a second mistrial because of the latest jury stalemate. Instead, Lenard replied with a note of her own.
"Please continue deliberating," said the judge's note.
The jurors were ordered to return Monday. If the impasse continues, Lenard likely would issue a directive telling jurors they have duty to reach verdicts if reasonably possible — meaning deliberations could last well into next week.
Prosecutors and defense attorneys are prevented by a gag order from commenting publicly. But the prospect that this second trial would end like the first, in a hung jury, has loomed large as deliberations dragged on.
If there is a mistrial, the Justice Department would have to decide whether to try the men a third time, drop the case entirely — unlikely in any terrorism matter — or file a new indictment against some or all of the men.
They face as many as 70 years in prison if convicted of four terrorism-related conspiracy charges, even though they never obtained any explosives or possessed bomb-making material. They have been in custody since their June 2006 arrests, which were called a victory against purportedly homegrown terrorists by then-Attorney General Alberto Gonzales.
The prosecution case is built on dozens of FBI audio and video recordings involving two paid informants, one of whom posed as an al-Qaida operative named Brother Mohammed. Jurors have spent hours in their cramped, seventh-floor deliberation room listening to and viewing the FBI tapes, Lenard said
One key tape depicts a March 2006 ceremony in which Brother Mohammed — real name Elie Assad, a Lebanon native who served in Syria's military — leads the group in an oath of allegiance to al-Qaida. Batiste is also overheard on other tapes vowing to use the Sears Tower and FBI attacks to spark a "full ground war" that would overthrow the U.S. government.
Batiste, 34, testified that he faked interest in the terrorism plots in hopes of conning Mohammed out of $50,000 for his struggling construction business and to do charitable works in Miami's impoverished Liberty City neighborhood.
Prosecutors made much of the group's martial arts training and a meeting place they called "the Embassy." Batiste's group was an offshoot of a sect called the Moorish Science Temple that blends elements of Judaism, Christianity and Islam and considers itself separate from the U.S. government.
But defense lawyers countered that the men never obtained weapons and were entrapped by an FBI overly eager to make terrorism-related arrests.