DETROIT – Acting at the request of prosecutors, a federal judge on Thursday threw out the terrorism charges against two men convicted last year in a case once hailed by the Bush administration as a major victory in the War on Terror.
But U.S. District Judge Gerald Rosen (search) said the two, as well as a third man, must stand trial again on charges of document fraud.
The judge's decision came after the Justice Department (search) admitted widespread prosecutorial misconduct in the case and asked the judge to dismiss the terrorism charges against two men accused of being part of a Detroit terror cell.
"It is an inescapable conclusion that the defendants' due process, confrontation and fair trial rights were violated," Rosen wrote Thursday. "There is at least a reasonable probability that the jury's verdict would have been different had constitutional standards been met."
Rosen said the prosecution's "understandable sense of mission and zeal to obtain a conviction" in the wake of the Sept. 11 attacks "overcame not only its professional judgment, but its broader obligations to the justice system and the rule of law."
The government's change of heart, outlined in court papers Tuesday, came after a monthslong court-ordered review of documents connected to the case. The Justice Department uncovered several pieces of potentially exculpatory evidence that should have been given to the defense before trial.
Karim Koubriti (search), 26, and Abdel-Ilah Elmardoudi (search), 38, were convicted in June 2003 of conspiracy to provide material support for terrorism and to engage in fraud and misuse of visas and other documents.
The defense Thursday praised the decision to drop the terrorism charges, but said the misconduct was severe enough to warrant a dismissal of the fraud charges as well.
"Obviously, we're still going to pursue our claim that the charges should be dismissed, but we're also going to be prepared for trial," said Elmardoudi's attorney, William Swor.