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Judge rules for anonymous jury in Fort Dix plot trial

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Sep. 13, 2007  ·   Identities of jurors will not be made public in the trial to determine whether six…

Sep. 13, 2007  ·   Identities of jurors will not be made public in the trial to determine whether six men plotted to kill soldiers at the Fort Dix military base in New Jersey, a federal judge ruled Sept. 6.

Despite opposition from all six defendants, Judge Robert B. Kugler of the U.S. District Court in Camden, N.J., agreed with the government that the identities of the jurors should be kept anonymous, particularly because of the level of pretrial publicity the case has already received, he stated in a pretrial conference.

The highly publicized case involves the six men who were arrested in May and charged with planning to murder members of the military at the central New Jersey base. Among other things, Fort Dix is used to train military reservists who will be deployed to Iraq.

Some of the defendants were also charged with unlawful possession of firearms. The complaint filed by the U.S. Attorney’s office in New Jersey alleged that the men surveilled the base on several occasions, underwent firearms training and viewed terrorist training videos.

All six of the men – who have each pleaded not guilty – were born overseas but have spent many years living in Philadelphia and its suburbs. If convicted for conspiring to murder military personnel, five of the men – Mohamad Ibrahim Shnewer, Serdar Tatar and brothers Dritan, Shain and Eljvir Duka – face life in prison. The sixth man, Agron Abdullahu, was charged with weapons offenses that carry a 10-year sentence.

The government had argued for anonymity because of the extensive media attention, the nature of the charges and prosecutors’ worries that jurors would fear potential intimidation by “like-minded persons” who share the defendants’ “jihadist views.”

The trial is scheduled for Nov. 5, but defense counsel Rocco Cipparone said he anticipates the date will be pushed back to give the parties additional time to prepare. Cipparone, who represents Shnewer, said he was aware of the possibility that the government might request an anonymous jury, but said in this case “it wasn’t particularly warranted because there was no reason to believe the defendants would tamper with the jury.” He said historically, that is a concern that has led to anonymous juries.

Juror identities have also been sealed in cases involving organized crime or where there is a concern for the jurors’ safety, said Greg Reinert, a spokesman with the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Camden. He said in this case, the judge is “being very thorough” in preparing for the trial and noted that some of the pretrial discussion has centered around making the trial easier to cover for the media.

Prosecutors have also informed the government that they may wish to bring classified information in as evidence in the case, which would require special court preparation, Reinert said. Classified evidence would also remain shielded from the public’s view.

(U.S. v. Shnewer, Camden, N.J.)CZ

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