Judge narrows charges against bombing defendants
NEW YORK (CNN) -- A federal judge granted defense motions to reduce the number of criminal counts a jury might consider against two of the four men on trial for the 1998 bombings of U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania.
U.S. District Judge Leonard Sand ruled Thursday that all charges linking defendants Mohamed Rashed Daoud al-'Owhali and Mohamed Sadeek Odeh to the Tanzania attack will be dismissed.
But the two men still face more than 260 counts of terror conspiracy, using weapons of mass destruction and murder stemming from the bombing in Nairobi, Kenya, that killed 213 people, including 12 Americans.
The prosecution completed its presentation of evidence last Wednesday after calling more than 90 witnesses and introducing hundreds of exhibits during nine weeks of testimony.
The defense case begins Monday.
Defendants' testimony uncertain
Odeh told the court Thursday that he will not testify in his defense. Neither al-'Owhali nor the two other defendants -- Khalfan Khamis Mohamed, an alleged Tanzania embassy bomber, and Wadih el Hage, an alleged terrorism conspirator and perjurer -- announced their decision about testifying.
"It will be made at the last minute," said Fred Cohn, an attorney for al-'Owhali.
The judge told the attorneys, assembled without the jury present, that he saw a "great advantage to everyone" if the government pared its accusations.
"I try to put myself in the position of a juror," Sand said.
Sand suggested, instead of trying to prove more than 150 acts alleged in the indictment's first count -- conspiracy to kill Americans -- that prosecutors focus on the two dozen or so acts that allegedly involved the four defendants on trial.
The indictment names 22 defendants, starting with Saudi exile Osama bin Laden, charged with leading the alleged decade-long terrorist conspiracy and ordering the embassy bombings. Bin Laden is one of 13 fugitives in the case, who, with five others in custody, are alleged to have committed many of the acts in the indictment.
18 counts tossed out
Sand explained his thinking by describing a bumper sticker that quoted American essayist Henry David Thoreau: "Simplify, simplify."
"Our life is frittered away by detail ... simplify, simplify," Thoreau wrote.
"As I read the indictment," Sand added, "I really wonder whether this is not the time for the government to simplify the burden on the jury by abandoning some of these counts."
He then took the first step toward doing so -- tossing out 18 counts that charged al-'Owhali and Odeh in the Tanzania attack -- essentially the Dar es Salaam bombing itself and the murders of 11 people killed in the attack.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald argued that participation in the Kenya bombing resulted in "freeing up other members of the crew" to carry out the coordinated Tanzania attack, which occurred minutes later.
"He [al-'Owhali] is taking care of one role in what is to be a dual attack," Fitzgerald said.
Sand disagreed and dropped the Tanzania charges against al-'Owhali and Odeh -- leaving the jury with 268 counts to consider against them.
K. K. Mohamed faces 24 counts of terrorist conspiracy, using weapons of mass destruction, and murder for his alleged participation in the Tanzania bombing.
El Hage is charged with the five main terrorist conspiracy counts, but not the bombings. However, he alone faces 21 counts of perjury before grand juries and making false statements to the FBI for allegedly lying about his contacts with bin Laden and his associates.
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