On Third Try, Government Gets Conviction in Sears Tower Plot

If at first you don't succeed, try and try again. That was the Government's attitude in the Liberty City, Fla. "Sears Tower" plot terror trial. Two juries didn't convict the defendants, but today, a third jury convicted five and acquitted one.

After two previous mistrials, a federal jury Tuesday finally reached verdicts in the Bush-era terrorism case of six Miami men charged with conspiring with al Qaeda -- convicting five and acquitting one.

...The indictment charged the Liberty City Six with four counts of conspiring to provide material support to a foreign terrorist organization; provide material support to terrorists; destroy buildings with explosives; and levy war against the U.S. government in a seditious act.

A seventh defendant was acquitted in the first trial. The Government deported him to Haiti anyway. So what was different in this trial? [More...]

In the third trial, prosecutors Jacqueline Arango and Richard Gregorie put a new spin on the evidence by trying to portray Batiste as an admirer of a notorious criminal in Chicago. They tried to show that Batiste's inspiration for his radicalism was Jeff Fort, whom Batiste came to appreciate as a young man living in that city. Fort, a drug trafficker who led a black militant gang, was convicted in 1987 of conspiring with Libya to terrorize the United States. But no evidence directly linked Batiste to Fort or his violent group, the El Rukns.

This case was a government sting. The convictions hinged on the testimony of two FBI informants.

The first, a convenience store clerk from Yemen with a criminal history, snitched on Batiste after hearing him talk about his militant ideas, including destroying the Chicago landmark.

At the FBI's direction, he introduced Batiste to the second informant, a more polished Middle Eastern man who posed as an al Qaeda representative. He insinuated his way into Batiste's group by proposing al Qaeda could help him on his mission to blow up the Sears Tower if Batiste could return the favor by assisting al Qaeda in a scheme to destroy several FBI buildings.

The informant's plan was a fiction, however, designed to see how far Batiste would go with his militant ambitions. He peppered Batiste with questions about logistics for his mission: weapons, vehicles, uniforms, money. Batiste seemed mostly interested in getting money for himself and his impoverished crew.

The defense contended:

when FBI agents arrested the men nearly three years ago at their warehouse in Liberty City, they found no weapons of mass destruction, no terrorism blueprints and no radical literature.

''We were really about helping the community,'' said Herrera, the lone acquitted defendant, outside the courthouse. ``It wasn't until this informant came into the picture that things changed. All we wanted from him was money. It was a like a dangling carrot.''

Batiste testified at all three trials. Some of our coverage of the earlier trials is here and here.

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    I can't help but think of (none / 0) (#1)
    by inclusiveheart on Tue May 12, 2009 at 07:07:37 PM EST
    Graham Greene's novel "Our Man in Havana" when I think about these guys and those involved in this ridiculous sting operation.

    Legal entrapment... (none / 0) (#2)
    by kdog on Wed May 13, 2009 at 12:27:41 PM EST
    alive and well I see.

    What really gets me is...what if one of these undercover feds actually talks somebody into doing something violent?  I tend to think the Liberty City boys were just trying to hustle the undercover out of some cash and were never any threat to do anything...but what if the next crew an undercover starts trying to radicalize actually does something?  Is this how we should spend our limited funds...talking knuckleheads into terrorism?  It boggles my mind.

    Differrent Spin (none / 0) (#3)
    by diogenes on Thu May 14, 2009 at 08:44:39 PM EST
    You could spin this story differently, saying that in two trials the five defendants could not convince all twelve jurors that they were not guilty beyond a reasonable doubt, and that at the third trial the defendants could not even convince one juror of this.