Ailsa Chang is an award-winning journalist who covers criminal justice, terrorism and the courts for WNYC. She found her way into public radio after practicing law for five years, and can definitely say that walking the streets of New York City with a microphone is a lot more fun than being holed up in the office writing letters to opposing counsel.
Closing Arguments Underway in Trial of Accused Bronx Synagogue Bombers
Monday, October 04, 2010
The six-week trial of the four Newburgh men accused of planning to bomb Bronx synagogues and shoot down military planes last May has largely focused on a single question: were these four men -- James Cromitie, David Williams, Onta Williams and Laguerre Payen -- illegally entrapped by an overzealous FBI informant into committing these crimes?
Closing arguments by Assistant U.S. Attorney David Raskin and Cromitie's lawyer Vincent Bricetti on Monday focused almost entirely on that one issue.
Raskin's thesis in his closing argument was that the men went through with the terror plot and that that is proof enough that they're criminally-minded Jew-haters who would have caused real harm had they bumped into a real terrorist with real bombs and missiles.
"They seized the opportunity without hesitation," Raskin said. A law-abiding citizen with a conscience would have run the other way no matter how much money was offered, he argued.
"Would an innocent-minded person do what the defendants did for any amount of money in the world?" Raskin asked the jury. "We're talking about terrorism. We're talking about murder."
The men have been charged with eight criminal counts, including attempt to use weapons of mass destruction. They are each facing a maximum of life in prison.
To show defendants were not entrapped, the government has to prove that the defendants were not induced into committing the crimes, and even if they were induced, they were predisposed to committing the crimes anyway.
The prosecutors argue that the defendants showed predisposition because of their mere willingness to go along with the plan.
But Bricetti argued that theory is illogical. It makes an entrapment defense impossible in every case, he said, because a defendant will always have gone along with some criminal act by the time he's charged and needs to raise an entrapment defense.
Instead, he told the jury to look at why these men got involved before the plan was hatched -- they were desperate for money and promised hundreds of thousands of dollars, a car, a barbershop and fancy vacation trips.
Legal experts say the entrapment defense has been overwhelmingly unsuccessful in terror prosecutions. Both sides in this trial agree the four men positioned fake bombs in front of two synagogues in Riverdale and were preparing to shoot heat-seeking Stinger missiles at aircraft on Stewart International Airport. About 100 hours of video and audio recordings show the men planning and executing the attack. Whether the jury convicts these four men hangs on whether they decide the government pushed too hard in getting these men to go along with the plot.
Raskin argued that Cromitie was already an anti-semite, spewing his hatred by the time he met Shahed Hussain, a confidential FBI informant posing as a rich businessman with ties to a Pakistani terror organization. He told Hussain he wanted to attack Jews and destroy a synagogue one day.
These words weren't just Cromitie boasting, said Raskin. "These words were coming from Cromitie's soul."
Raskin said these defendants were given several opportunities to back away. But they never did, not even when they saw up close the deadly Stinger missiles and bombs that would turn out to be fake.
Bricetti said Cromitie was pursued relentlessly by Hussain, even he cut off contact with Hussain for a six-week period in 2009. Hussain was the one, Bricetti said, who suggested the targets, who planted the idea of jihad in the defendants' minds.
Bricetti reminded the jurors that the government's entire case rests solely on the testimony of a single first-hand eyewitness -- Hussain. And Hussain, Bricetti said, has proven to be a lifelong liar who has had a history of cheating immigration officials, the department of motor vehicles, the state department of education, probation officers and the bankruptcy court.
Bricetti told the jury to throw out Hussain's entire testimony because his lies taint his other statements just as a "rotten egg" spoils an entire omelette.
Closing arguments are scheduled to conclude Tuesday.