CAMDEN, N.J. – A federal prosecutor told jurors in closing arguments Monday that the case of five men accused of plotting to attack soldiers on Fort Dix was full of convincing evidence and should not be difficult to sort out.
The lawyer for one of the defendants said it was murky, with plenty of room for doubts.
Closing arguments are to resume Tuesday, with the jury of eight women and four men possibly beginning deliberations.
The five defendants — all foreign-born Muslims who lived for years in the Philadelphia suburb of Cherry Hill — are charged with conspiring to kill military personnel and attempted murder. Four of them also face weapons charges. They face life in prison if convicted.
The government has portrayed the case as an example of law enforcement averting a possible tragedy. There was no attack before the men were arrested in May 2007.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Michael Hammer told jurors they should focus on the recordings made by two informants who were paid by the government to befriend the men.
He pointed jurors to conversations in which the men talked about killing soldiers. He reminded jurors about how one of the men, Mohamad Shnewer, drove with one of the informants to military installations in the Philadelphia area and made suggestions about how to attack targets from Fort Dix to the White House to the Army-Navy football game.
"Despite defense counsel's best efforts to redefine those words and recast them as harmless banter, those words do not change," Hammer told jurors.
Rocco Cipparone, the lawyer for the 23-year-old Shnewer, the youngest of the defendants, pointed to the informant's credibility problems.
Mahmoud Omar, Cipparone said, entered the United States illegally, ordered someone in his native Egypt to be shot, served time in a bank fraud case, sold a fake Social Security card, agreed to help authorities after he was caught in a second bank fraud and admitted to smoking marijuana after he had promised authorities he abide by the law.
Cipparone argued that Omar manipulated Shnewer into talking about attacking soldiers and to taking steps toward doing it.
He showed transcripts of the recordings in which Omar asked to see jihadist videos. Cipparone said Shnewer was downloading them on the Internet largely because Omar, who sometimes told Shnewer to think of him like a big brother, asked him for the videos. Omar, now 39, even gave Shnewer, a former taxi driver, a DVD burner so he could make copies.
Cipparone said Shnewer downloaded a total of five of the videos in 2005, then downloaded nearly 100 in the time when he was most often around Omar.
Hammer asserted that the videos motivated the men and showed that they were interested in harming soldiers — which is what many of the videos depicted. The government showed portions of them to jurors during the trial.
In his arguments, Cipparone questioned why the prosecution did so. "They do stir up emotions," he said. "Think about how the prosecution kept coming back to the videos at certain times throughout the trial. Think about whether or not that was strategic."
Cipparone also said that while his client talked about a plot with Omar, he wasn't planning one with the other defendants. For instance, he said that when Omar suggested that the two of them sit down with another man to look at maps of Fort Dix, Shnewer made an excuse not to go, saying he had to get a haircut.
And when Omar told Shnewer he could get him guns, he said he'd rather do "dry training" without real weapons.
The government, though, contends Shnewer ordered weapons.