SAN FRANCISCO – A federal judge in Sacramento has thrown out parts of the case against 12 men accused of trying to overthrow the communist government of Laos.
U.S. District Judge Frank Damrell Jr. said Friday in a filing that prosecutors had failed to include enough information in some parts of their indictment to allow each of the men to defend themselves. Damrell also found that some of the charges were not supported by the evidence prosecutors provided.
Among two of the five counts that were dismissed was a key contention of prosecutors that the men violated the federal Neutrality Act.
The act prohibits people while in the United States from taking part in a military or naval enterprise against the government of another nation with which the U.S. is at peace.
Damrell said the U.S. Attorney's Office had failed to clearly show that such a military expedition existed, nor did it say specifically what role each defendant is accused of playing.
The government also had to show that the military effort began at some point, which Damrell said it had not.
"The Act requires more than the attempted purchase or transportation of arms and ammunition to a foreign country," he wrote.
The defendants still face charges of conspiring to violate the act.
The men are accused of plotting to send fighters and weapons, including machine guns and explosives, to Southeast Asia to attack Laos. In his ruling, Damrell also dismissed some of the weapons charges.
A call and e-mail to a spokeswoman for the U.S. Attorney's Office in Sacramento seeking comment on Saturday were not immediately returned.
The defendants include retired U.S. Army Lt. Col. Youa True Vang and 11 members of California's Hmong community, many of whom fought for the U.S. during the Vietnam War. All 12 have pleaded not guilty since their arrests in 2007.
Prosecutors are expected to drop the charges against Vang.
The charges against another defendant, Vang Pao, were dropped last year. Pao was a national Hmong leader and former Laotian general.