Jury returns no guilty verdicts, judge declares mistrial (October 22, 2007)

It was a windy, chilly and wet morning on Monday, October 22, 2007 as defendants, their families and supporters rushed to the brown-and-white marbled courthouse in downtown Dallas. Near the lobby elevators was a long line of supporters awaiting the verdict. By about 9:30 a.m., defendants and their relatives as well as at least 20 reporters entered the courtroom. Within minutes, the room was packed with anxious individuals who yearned two different fates for the defendants. In the café on the 6th floor, more than a dozen local and national supporters stuck together, praying for a positive outcome and checking the latest news about the verdict on their cell phones.

After 19 days of deliberations and four additional days of a sealed verdict, the eight-woman, four-man jury entered the courtroom in two straight lines by about 10 a.m. U.S. District judge A. Joe Fish opened the yellow envelope and slowly took out the verdict, a thick stack of almost 200 counts and what the jury concluded on each one. This is what he found:

Mohammad El-Mezain was acquitted on 31 of 32 counts. The jury deadlocked on the 1st count, which was “conspiracy to provide material support to a foreign terrorist organization.”

Mufid Abdulqader was acquitted on all 32 counts.

Abdulrahman Odeh was acquitted on 30 of 32 counts. The jury deadlocked on the 1st count and the 11th count, which also was the “conspiracy to provide material support to a foreign terrorist organization.”

Shukri Abu-Baker and Ghassan Elashi were neither acquitted nor convicted on all 36 counts. The jury deadlocked, 6-6, on every single count against them.

As for the Holy Land Foundation, the jury was also split on all counts against it.

These decisions were quickly altered as the judge polled jurors, three of whom said the verdict did not represent their votes. So the judge sent the jury back to their room to deliberate, which they did for almost an hour. When they returned to the courtroom, the judge re-polled them and concluded the following results:

Mr. Abdulqader’s not guilty verdicts were changed to a hang jury on all 32 counts because only one juror believed he was guilty.

Mr. Odeh’s 30 not guilty verdicts were also changed to a hang jury because a juror changed her mind.

The judgments on Mr. Elashi, Mr. Abu-Baker and Mr. El-Mezain did not change from the hour before.

The judge then declared a mistrial and asked the prosecution whether or not they will retry the case. “Yes, your honor, my expectation is we will,” replied lead prosecutor Jim Jacks.

The defendants and their families left the courtroom with smiles on their faces for one major reason: After the U.S. government spent millions of tax dollars and about 15 years of investigation as an attempt to prove that these defendants were connected to terrorism, the jury could not return a single guilty verdict.

When the lobby elevators opened, the defendants and their families where greeted by nearly one hundred jubilant supporters. Some advocates spoke in an indoor press conference, while others held signs outside the courthouse that read “Feeding Children is not a Crime” and “Faith over Fear and Justice for all.” Many exclaimed, “Allah Hu Akbar,” or “God is Great” as others hoisted a couple defendants and a defense attorney on their shoulders. It was a beautiful scene and hopefully the beginning of a final victory.

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