MIAMI – The federal judge in Jose Padilla's terrorism support trial refused to declare a mistrial Thursday after at least one juror saw one of Padilla's co-defendants in shackles outside the courtroom.
Attorneys for Adham Amin Hassoun said his right to a fair trial had been jeopardized, but U.S. District Judge Marcia Cooke said after interviewing jurors that none had been "unfairly prejudiced in this matter."
On Tuesday, the 16 jurors were being transported in government vans from the courthouse's basement garage to their cars. As one of the vans was leaving, three deputy U.S. marshals escorted Hassoun through the area in leg shackles and a belly chain attached to his wrists.
In the interviews with Cooke, a male juror acknowledged seeing Hassoun in chains and others either saw him or heard one of two female jurors make comments about it. One woman acknowledged saying that seeing a defendant that way was wrong because it might affect jurors' "perceptions."
Hassoun, Padilla and Kifah Wael Jayyousi are on trial for allegedly being part of a North American support cell providing money, equipment and recruits for Islamic extremists, including Al Qaeda.
"Viewing the defendant in shackles undermines the presumption of innocence," Jeanne Baker, an attorney for Hassoun. "We want a mistrial. We are not willing to go forward at all."
Federal prosecutors opposed a mistrial in a case that has already seen some seven weeks of testimony.
Even though Cooke said the incident was a breach of security, she was satisfied after questioning all jurors that a fair trial was not in jeopardy.
"All of them replied, 'Yes, I was not affected' if they did see Mr. Hassoun in handcuffs or chains," the judge said.
U.S. Supreme Court rulings forbid chaining of defendants before jurors in court unless security demands it, but other decisions make exceptions for "brief or inadvertent" sightings, Cooke said.
"What is clear is that this was an inadvertent incident," Assistant U.S. Attorney John Shipley said.
All three defendants appear in suits and ties in court without shackles or chains, but Hassoun, 45, and Padilla, 36, are escorted to a secure detention area each night at the federal prison across the street from the courthouse. Jayyousi, 45, is out on bail.
Testimony was delayed Thursday to allow time for the issue to be settled.
Padilla, a U.S. citizen, has been in federal custody since his arrest in 2002 on suspicion of plotting to detonate a radioactive "dirty bomb" inside the United States. He was held for 3 1/2 years in military custody as an enemy combatant, then added in late 2005 to an existing terrorism support case in Miami involving Hassoun and Jayyousi.
The Miami indictment does not include the "dirty bomb" allegations but does claim that Padilla filled out a form in 2000 to attend an Al Qaeda training camp in Afghanistan.