DETROIT – A former federal prosecutor and an ex-State Department investigator wanted so badly to win convictions in the nation's first major terrorism trial after the Sept. 11 attacks that they broke the law themselves, a government attorney said Tuesday.
"They crossed over the line from upholding the law to violating it," Eileen Gleason told jurors in closing arguments in the case against Richard Convertino and Harry Smith III. The two have pleaded not guilty to charges of obstruction of justice, making false declarations before a court and conspiracy.
William Sullivan, Convertino's lawyer, described his client as a hardworking prosecutor who was trying to bust up a terrorist cell and shouldn't be on trial.
"The only motive or intent Mr. Convertino had in this case ... was that he wanted to preserve your safety," Sullivan told jurors during his closing argument.
Convertino and Smith had no reason to conspire to hide evidence because it would have supported the prosecution's case, Sullivan said.
"This case at its fundamental core makes no sense," Smith's lawyer, Thomas Cranmer, said during his closing argument.
Jurors were to begin deliberations Wednesday morning.
For two years, Convertino led the government's case against four North African men accused of operating a "sleeper" terrorist cell. Two of the four, Karim Koubriti and Abdel-Ilah Elmardoudi, were convicted in 2003 of conspiring to provide material support and resources to terrorists, and Convertino won praise from the Bush administration for his successful convictions.
Smith helped in the investigation and testified for the government at the trial.
However, a federal judge overturned the verdicts at the Justice Department's request after prosecutors discovered that some documents that could have aided the defense during the trial were not turned over by the government as required.
Convertino was indicted last year on allegations that he conspired to obstruct justice and lied to a federal judge in connection with case.
The indictment said Convertino and Smith conspired to keep from defense lawyers photographs of a Jordanian hospital that would have undermined the government's argument that the alleged Detroit cell made surveillance sketches of the place.
Convertino also elicited testimony from Smith and an FBI agent that the sketch matched the hospital and its surrounding area, even though the photographs contradicted that description, the indictment said.
Cranmer, Smith's lawyer, said the sketch of the hospital turned out to be a minor piece of evidence in the overall case. Defense lawyers also said the government hasn't proven that Convertino intentionally withheld the photos.
The criminal trial before U.S. District Judge Arthur Tarnow began three weeks ago.