Judge 'simplifies' charges in bombings trial
NEW YORK (CNN) -- U.S. District Judge Leonard Sand granted defense motions Thursday to reduce the number of criminal counts a jury may consider against two men on trial for the August 7, 1998, bombings of U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania.
Sand ruled that all charges linking defendants Mohamed Rashed Daoud al-'Owhali and Mohamed Sadeek Odeh to the attack in Tanzania 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.
Odeh told the court Thursday that he will not testify in his own defense. Neither al-'Owhali nor the two other defendants -- Khalfan Khamis Mohamed, accused in the bombing of the embassy in Tanzania, and Wadih el Hage, accused of conspiracy to commit terrorism and perjury -- announced their decisions about testifying.
"It will be made at the last minute," said Fred Cohn, an attorney for al-'Owhali.
Judge Sand 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 wealthy Saudi expatriate Osama bin Laden, who is 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 along with five others in custody are alleged to have committed many of the acts in the indictment.
Sand explained his thinking by paraphrasing a bumper sticker that quoted American essayist Henry David Thoreau, author of "Walden," published in 1854.
"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 attack on the embassy in Tanzania -- essentially the bombing in Dar es Salaam and the murders of 11 people killed in the attack.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald argued that participation in the bombing in Kenya resulted in "freeing up other members of the crew" to carry out the coordinated attack in Tanzania, 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 charges related to bombing in Tanzania 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 bombing in Tanzania.
El Hage is charged with the five main terrorist conspiracy counts, but not with the bombings themselves. He alone, however, 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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