Father of Najibullah Zazi Convicted at Obstruction Trial

Mohammed Wali Zazi, father of admitted terrorist Najibullah Zazi, was convicted by a federal jury in Brooklyn today of two counts of obstruction of justice and one count of conspiring to obstruct justice by lying to investigators and the grand jury and destroying or hiding evidence to cover up his son's aborted plan to place bombs in the New York subway system.

The case featured the testimony of two other family members who pleaded guilty and agreed to testify for the government to stave off stiff prison terms. They detailed the family's failure to acknowledge Zazi as a budding terrorist and its clumsy attempts to protect him once his plot fell apart.

The defense argued the two relatives of Zazi, who testified against him in exchange for leniency for their own participation, were lying. In the jury instructions they submitted to the Court, the defense argued the government did not accuse Mr. Zazi of destroying any physical evidence himself and conceded he was not even present during the alleged destruction. (They said the government’s theory was that Mr. Zazi aided and abetted others' destruction of physical evidence and that he wasn't guilty of aiding and abetting because Mr. Zazi did not share the specific intent of those who physically committed the crime.) [More..]

The defense also wanted the jury instructed that perjury alone wasn't enough to convict Zazi of obstruction. (“[A]n obstruction of justice prosecution cannot rest solely on the allegation or proof of perjury; rather, what also must additionally be proven is that the false statements given, in some way, either obstructed or were intended to obstruct the due administration of justice.")

The government prove beyond a reasonable doubt that Mr. Zazi willfully and knowingly gave false information with the specific intent to obstruct a pending judicial proceeding and that Mr. Zazi had knowledge that his actions were likely to affect that particular judicial proceeding.

...If Mr. Zazi lacked knowledge that his statements would be repeated or conveyed during the official proceedings or that his statements were likely to affect the judicial proceedings in any other way, he lacked the requisite intent to obstruct the due administration of justice

Zazi also wanted to argue that the Government prosecuted him to put pressure on his son to cooperate. The Government objected, and the Court ruled in favor of the Government.

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  • Display: Sort:
    Did the obstruction charge originate from... (none / 0) (#1)
    by magster on Fri Jul 22, 2011 at 01:45:35 PM EST
    ... when Zazi's initial attorney agreed to let the government interview Zazi?

    Yes (5.00 / 1) (#2)
    by Jeralyn on Fri Jul 22, 2011 at 04:02:58 PM EST
    it began the night that Najibullah's attorney and his partner took Najibullah in for an interview. The father went along for moral support, expecting to just sit in the waiting room.

    The lawyers say they didn't know at first the FBI was questioning the father. They were in another room. The FBI got him to acknowledge his cell phone and go through the contacts in it and identify everyone in it. Then they started to question the father, at some point, Najibullah's lawyer stopped it, but by the end of the night, they had still gotten handwriting, voice, DNA, fingerprints and more from the father. And then the partner of Najibullah's lawyer brought him back the next day for more questoning:

    Mr. Zazi and Najibullah were each interrogated by the FBI for the first time on September 16, 2009. The interrogations took place at the FBI offices in downtown Denver.  Mr. Zazi drove Najibullah to the offices, where they met up with lawyers Arthur Folsom and Armstrong Graham. Mr. Zazi accompanied his son to the FBI to provide him with moral support. His plan was to rest in the waiting area while Najibullah and the lawyers went inside for an interview.  He was fasting for Ramadan, and he was tired, hungry and nervous. He had no idea FBI agents also intended to interrogate him.

    While Mr. Zazi was sitting in the waiting area, FBI Special Agent John Gedney approached and began speaking to him.  Mr. Zazi immediately told Agent Gedney he did not speak English well and needed an interpreter. Agent Gedney said there was no need for an interpreter because he was not going to question Mr. Zazi but simply keep him company while he waited for his son. Based on a review of discovery, Agent Gedney did not notify Mr. Zazi of his right to silence.

    ...Without notifying Mr. Zazi of his right to silence, Agent Gedney began asking him questions about his family members and his life in Afghanistan and Colorado. Mr. Zazi answered the questions because he did not know he had the right to refuse.  After some time, FBI Special Agent Mike Copeland and Colorado Police Officer John Nagengast appeared and told Mr. Zazi they wanted to speak further.

    They took him to a small interview room in "secured FBI space," along the same hallway where Najibullah was being interrogated. Though they were only several feet away from Najibullah's interview room, the agents neglected to notify lawyers Folsom and Graham that they intended to interrogate Najibullah's father.

    Upon sitting down, Mr. Zazi repeated that he did not speak English well and needed an interpreter.  The agents did not make any efforts to locate an interpreter. Instead, they told Mr. Zazi they would ask him simple questions. Mr. Zazi agreed to speak with the agents, and to do so without an interpreter, because he did not understand he had the right to refuse.

    At some point, Najibullah's lawyer, Arthur Folsom got wind of the interrogation. He left Najibullah with his partner Armstrong Graham, entered Mr. Zazi's interrogation room, and declared the interview over.

    While still at the FBI offices later that evening, an agent asked for consent to search Najibullah's phone. Based on the transcript of the FBI's interview with Najibullah, it appears
    that either Najibullah or Mr. Folsom retrieved two phones from an FBI locker--one of which belonged to his Mr. Zazi--and handed them both to the agent. There is nothing in the transcript to suggest that the agents asked Mr. Zazi for permission to handle his phone or for consent to search the phone.

    At some point after the phone searches were complete, the agents asked Najibullah and Mohammed to sign consent to search forms. The forms were written in English and were not translated into Pashto for Mr. Zazi. Mr. Zazi signed the form because he did not understand he had the right to refuse.

    The agents asked no further questions of Mr. Zazi that evening. But they collected his fingerprints, took a DNA sample, and conducted a handwriting test, which took one hour and a half to complete. At the end of the test, the agents dictated 16 English words to Mr. Zazi, each of which he spelled incorrectly.

    Mr. Zazi was interrogated by the same agents for a second time on September 18, 2009. This time, he was accompanied by attorney Armstrong Graham. Mr. Graham notified Agent Copeland and Officer Nagengast at the outset that Mr. Zazi "possessed a
    limited ability to speak and understand English."  Despite that "a linguist was available," the agents again neglected to provide Mr. Zazi with an interpreter. Mr. Zazi spoke with the agents for a second time because he still did not know he had the right to refuse.