PORTLAND, Ore. – Prosecutors in the trial of the Oregon leader of an Islamic charity branch used appeals to provoke prejudice and emotion that included waving the Quran in the air and throwing it on the table in front of jurors, his lawyers say in a request for a new trial.
Pete Seda, of Ashland, was convicted Sept. 9 of conspiracy to defraud the government and filing a false tax return in what prosecutors alleged was a plot to smuggle $150,000 to Muslim fighters in Chechnya by using the Ashland branch of a Saudi Arabian charity, Al-Haramain.
The government began investigating Al-Haramain shortly after the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, a date that figured in the defense motion.
Among the defense's objections filed last week is that on the morning the verdict was reached, a juror was seen at breakfast in a Eugene hotel reading a front-page story in USA Today about the plan of a Florida pastor to burn a Quran two days later on the anniversary of the attacks. The pastor didn't follow through with the plan.
In 2004, the U.S. government declared Al-Haramain a terrorist organization, seizing and selling its assets, including the house in Ashland that served as U.S. headquarters for the charity and Seda's home. The Saudi Arabian government dissolved the parent organization.
Unless Judge Michael Hogan grants the motion for a new trial, the filing is likely to be the basis for an appeal of Seda's conviction to the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Chris Cardani was named in the filing as the prosecutor who waved "the Qu'ran around and then tossed it down on the table directly in front of the jury." He did not respond Wednesday to a request for comment. The government has not yet filed a formal response to the motion.
During the trial, prosecutors said Al-Haramain distributed the Quran to U.S. prison inmates: non-Muslims received a regular Quran while Muslim prisoners got a translation with an appendix calling for violence against Jews and nonbelievers, a version they called the "Noble Quran."
The defense motion argues that Cardani waved the Noble Quran as he spoke to the jury about its distribution to "violent people, serving time."
The defense said the use of the Quran "had the effect of allowing jurors to act based on emotion and also profoundly disrespected the defendant's religion."
The action was part of a trial "tainted with fear of Muslims, Islam and terrorism," the defense said.
Seda is a native of Iran who became a U.S. citizen and was known in the Southern Oregon university town as an arborist who regularly defended Islam as a peaceful religion.
He is to be sentenced Nov. 23 in U.S. District Court in Eugene.