MIAMI – A federal judge declared another mistrial Wednesday against six men accused of plotting to spark an anti-government war by toppling Chicago's Sears Tower and bombing FBI offices.
U.S. District Judge Joan Lenard ordered a mistrial when jurors reported they were deadlocked after 13 days of deliberation in the case of the so-called "Liberty City Seven." The first trial ended in a mistrial in December because of a hung jury for the same six defendants and the acquittal of a seventh.
Lenard set an April 23 hearing on whether a third trial would occur. U.S. Attorney R. Alexander Acosta said in a statement a decision on whether to try the men a third time would be announced at that hearing.
The six could have faced up to 70 years in prison if convicted of four conspiracy charges.
Defense lawyers indicated in court they would seek to have the men released on bail at next week's hearing.
Jurors in this trial first reported a stalemate last Friday and sent out a second note reporting an impasse on Tuesday. Each time, Lenard ordered the seven-man, five-woman jury, whose names are secret, to keep trying.
"They've deliberated. They've discussed this case inside and out," said Rod Vereen, who represents defendant Stanley Phanor. "At this point, enough is enough."
The jury refused media requests for interviews. Their identities are being kept secret under Lenard's orders, and deputy U.S. marshals barred reporters from speaking directly with the jurors after the mistrial was announced.
The defendants were arrested in a June 2006 operation hailed by the Bush administration as a prime example of the post-Sept. 11 strategy of preventing terrorism plots in the earliest possible stages. Yet there was no evidence the group ever acquired explosives or took concrete steps toward staging the attacks.
The case was built on hundreds of FBI audio and video recordings and the testimony of two paid FBI informants, one of whom posed as an Al Qaeda operative sent from overseas to help the group put together its plan.
One key video recording showed the informant, known to the group as Brother Mohammed, having the men make an oath of allegiance to Al Qaeda. Some also took pictures of the FBI office and other federal buildings in Miami, which prosecutors called surveillance for future attacks.
Accused ringleader Narseal Batiste, however, insisted in more than a week of testimony that he was faking interest in the plots in hopes of conning $50,000 out of Mohammed, whose real name is Elie Assad. Batiste said his group was focused on doing charitable works in the impoverished Liberty City neighborhood and on helping their construction business.
Batiste led a sect called the Moorish Science Temple that blends elements of Judaism, Christianity and Islam and does not recognize the authority of the U.S. government. The group met at a building called "the Embassy" and later at a warehouse wired for eavesdropping by the FBI.
The man acquitted after the first trial, 33-year-old Lyglenson Lemorin, is facing deportation to Haiti over the same terrorism allegations.