New Trial Sought for Lawyer in Terror Case

By JULIA PRESTON, New York Times
Published: August 13, 2005

Lawyers for Lynne F. Stewart, the New York lawyer who was convicted in February of aiding terrorism, have asked the judge to declare a mistrial because one juror failed to disclose during pretrial jury selection that he was biased against criminal defendants, according to federal court documents unsealed yesterday.

The documents also show that a different juror approached Ms. Stewart's lawyers after the verdict to say she had been intimidated by other jurors during their deliberations and was not clear-headed when she voted to convict Ms. Stewart and two co-defendants.

Ms. Stewart's lawyers have asked the judge, John G. Koeltl, to conduct an inquiry about that juror's misgivings.

Because of the risks of a terrorism trial, the jurors in Ms. Stewart's case were anonymous, identified only by numbers assigned during jury selection and by the seats they occupied in the courtroom.

After the verdict, Judge Koeltl urged the jurors not to speak to the news media about the trial, and their identities have not become public.

After deliberations that extended over a month, Ms. Stewart was convicted on Feb. 10 in Federal District Court in Manhattan of aiding a convicted terrorist client, Sheik Omar Abdel Rahman, a blind Muslim cleric who is serving a life sentence for conspiring to bomb New York City landmarks.

Also convicted were Ahmed Abdel Sattar, a Staten Island postal worker, and Mohamed Yousry, Ms. Stewart's Arabic translator. They are scheduled to be sentenced Sept. 30.

According to a June 3 motion by Ms. Stewart's lawyers, Joshua L. Dratel and Jill R. Shellow-Lavine, they were contacted after the verdict by a prospective juror who had been eliminated from the pool before the trial. She said she had chatted with another candidate, number 82, while the judge was questioning prospective jurors on May 20, 2004.

Juror 82 "told us he had been in jail for a couple of nights when he was in the military and that he did not want to go back there," the prospective juror reported. "He then said, in substance, that if someone is in front of a judge on charges, it is because they had done something wrong."

Ms. Stewart's lawyers asked for a new trial on the ground that she did not have an impartial jury since Juror 82 - who sat in the 12th seat in court - failed to tell the court of his suspicions about trial defendants and did not mention his incarceration.

During his pretrial questioning, Juror 82 testified that he served in the Army from 1969 to 1971 and assured Judge Koeltl that nothing in his military service would affect his ability to be fair, according to the transcript.

In their papers, the prosecutors said the claims against Juror 82 were very thin and did not come close to the "incontrovertible" evidence required for mistrial.

Judge Koeltl's order unsealing the defense mistrial motions and the government's responses became public yesterday. He has not ruled on the motions.

The newly released documents also show that Juror 39 wrote a letter to Judge Koeltl on March 25 outlining her complaints, and expanded on them in an April 26 meeting with her lawyer, Steven Masef, and Ms. Stewart's lawyers.

In an account of that meeting, Ms. Shellow-Lavine wrote that Juror 39 acknowledged that she was one of two holdouts for acquittal. Juror 39 said that during the deliberations another juror had told her that "it would be her fault if anyone died in a terrorist attack" if she did not vote with the others to convict the defendants. Frightened and intimidated, Juror 39 believed "maybe she wasn't thinking clearly" when she finally voted to convict.

She said she was further frightened on the last day of deliberations when, as she was climbing out of the van that ferried the jurors to court, someone who was not directly involved in the trial pointed her out as "the holdout," Ms. Shellow-Lavine wrote. "She was very bitter about her experience as a juror in this case and deeply offended by the way she was treated by her fellow jurors," the lawyer wrote.

Juror 39, a thin woman with sculptured cheekbones, said during pretrial questioning that she suffered from a rare respiratory disease in remission. She said she was active in New York Democratic clubs.

In their papers, the prosecutors pointed out that Ms. Stewart's lawyers were barred by law from interviewing a juror and urged the judge to disqualify them from the case and disallow Juror 39's statements. In papers filed Thursday, Mr. Dratel and Ms. Shellow-Lavine acknowledged their "regrettable error."