“Minnesota men” go to trial (2)

The case against the three “Minnesota men” who have not pleaded guilty to terrorism charges related to efforts to join ISIS proceeded as scheduled yesterday before Judge Michael Davis in federal district court in Minneapolis. A large crowd of Somali supporters of the defendants filled the courtroom

The morning was consumed with preliminary motions including one involving the possible withdrawal of attorney Murad Mohammad. Mohammad represents Mohamed Farah. Farah claims that communication with his attorney has broken down. His attorney has advised him to plead guilty to the most serious charge against him. Farah quoted his attorney warning him: “Judge Davis will F you if you don’t agree to plead to the conspiracy to commit murder charge.” The charge carries a possible life sentence.

Both Farah and Mohammad addressed the withdrawal motion with Judge Davis. Mohammad spoke so softly that it was almost impossible to hear him.

At an April 1 hearing leading to the withdrawal another of Farah’s attorneys, Farah had also addressed his relationship with Mohammad. As Judge Davis pointed out, Farah expressed complete confidence and trust in Mohammad at that time and hadn’t said anything to the contrary (although he had been invited to do so by Judge Davis) until the eve of trial.

Judge Davis denied the withdrawal motion. To outward appearances, the relationship between lawyer and client reverted to normal.

The rest of the day was consumed with voir dire, the process of qualifying prospective jurors to hear the case. Out of a panel of 50, only 22 remained by the end of the day. Judge Davis excused 10 of the 28 for inability to serve impartially.

The first floor of the courthouse has a visible contingent of armed ATF agents and bomb sniffing dogs. Several members the United States Marshals Service provide security in the courtroom. One sits facing the audience, keeping an eye on us at all times. Toward the end of the day, one prospective juror was excused when she commented: “To be honest, I’m kind of uncomfortable even being in the room with them [defendants].”

She could have been made uncomfortable simply by observing the level of security attending the trial. “Uncomfortable”? You’d have to be blind not to be.

Supporters of the defendants are also visible outside the courthouse. Judging by appearances, they’re not all family!

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Voir dire continues today. Opening statements are expected Wednesday.

The Star Tribune’s Stephen Montemayor has a good summary of yesterday’s proceedings here. In advance of the trial he also had a good preview here, as did the AP’s Amy Forliti, NPR’s Dina Temple-Ralston and MPR’s Mukhtar Ibrahim.

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