[Guest post by DRJ]
The Holy Land Foundation terror financing trial in Dallas began in August 2007 and ended in a mistrial in late November 2007. The trial and verdict/mistrial were covered in several posts here, here, here, here, here, and here.
The presiding trial judge was out of town when the jury announced it had reached a verdict, so the verdict was sealed for several days until the judge returned to receive it. What happened next was quite unusual – the Fort Worth Star-Telegram link for this quote has been archived but I linked it here:
“Jurors finally indicated that they had reached verdicts last Thursday. But their decisions were sealed until Monday because federal District Judge A. Joe Fish was out of town.
As Fish read the results, it appeared that jurors had acquitted Abdulqader on all charges, El-Mezain and Abdulrahman Odeh on most charges, and failed to reach decisions on any counts involving Baker, Elashi or Holy Land itself. But even that partial result was precarious. When the judge polled each juror whether he or she agreed with the verdicts – normally a formality – things turned chaotic, as three jurors disavowed the vote.
Fish sent the jury back to resolve the differences, but after about an hour, they said they could not continue, and the judge declared a mistrial.”
The Investigative Project on Terrorism (IPT) followed up on this unusual proceeding. I’m not familiar with this organization but several of its contributors are well-regarded, and IPT claims to have discovered some serious problems in the jury room:
“The terrorism-support trial of five Holy Land Foundation for Relief and Development (HLF) officials, which began July 24, already had been stressful for 49-year-old Kristina Williams. She had lost her job two weeks into it. Now during deliberations, she felt bullied and intimidated virtually every time she voiced an opinion.
“When I’d get off the jury I’d come home every night and basically cry because I felt like every time I spoke I would get knocked down, criticized, one way or the other for something pertaining to the way I voted,” Williams said in an exclusive interview.
While several jurors favored acquittals, just one out of the 12 did most of the knocking down. In fact, interviews with three HLF jurors – speaking publicly for the first time – suggest that juror William Neal’s stridency may have changed the trial’s outcome. Neal even claimed credit for steering jurors away from convictions in a recent radio interview. Until now, he has been the sole source for public perception of the deliberations and the government’s case.
The three jurors interviewed by the Investigative Project on Terrorism (IPT) showed the Neal-created perception as skewed. All three jurors say they disagree with his views of the evidence and the prosecution’s case. To them, it seems clear that Neal made up his mind going into the jury room and refused to consider any argument in favor of guilt. He preferred to read the court’s instructions rather than look at exhibits in evidence, they said. And his often snide manner intimidated and bullied those who disagreed with him.
The effect this had on the case is clear. When a juror walked out in frustration after just four days of deliberations, it followed a confrontation with Neal. When another juror briefly refused to cast a vote, it was after a confrontation with Neal. Williams broke down several times during the 19 days jurors spent locked in debate. Each incident followed what she felt was an attack by Neal.
In an interview with the IPT Dec. 3, Neal said he had no regrets. He disputed only some parts of the other jurors’ stories – he said he can’t remember telling Williams to go home if she was relying on the evidence in the jury room — but stopped short of saying it didn’t happen. “We had so many conversations they tend to blend together,” he said.”
According to IPT, the three jurors described a contentious jury room dominated by Neal. As noted above, one juror, Sylvester Holmes, became so frustrated he asked to be dismissed and an alternate took his place:
“Holmes got so frustrated that he walked out, forcing deliberations to start over when an alternate took his place. That deprived those favoring a guilty verdict of an ally. He wrote to the court saying he did not “feel that I can give the defendant’s (sic) justice. Due to the circumstance in this case, I ask to be dismiss (sic) for this case.”
Holmes, a supervisor at a recycling plant, said he thought all the defendants were guilty but saw no point in arguing further. “I felt they were wasting my time,” he said.”
After the mistrial, Neal gave interviews that provided interesting insight on his view of the case and terrorism financing in general:
“Neal, a graphic artist, apparently felt the same way about others wasting his time. He was interviewed by Dallas radio and television stations within days of the trial and by the Dallas Morning News. Thus far, his assertions have provided the only detailed insider assessment about the prosecution case.
Neal made his disdain clear two days after the mistrial in an interview on Dallas radio station KRLD. “A lot of the jurors couldn’t even say words that had four syllables,” Neal said on the Ernie and Jay show on KRLD 1080 AM. “They just picked the jury based on socio-economical reasons. A lot of these people are blue collar, you know, working UPS, working food, cafeteria cashier. You had people [from] secluded lifestyles. They had no idea of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. They had no idea about worldly affairs. To get them and you show them bombs and show them kids – that’s not our lifestyle so we’ve got to vote them guilty because of that. That’s the whole reason.”
The Dallas Morning News noted Neal “also had difficulty calling Hamas a terrorist group. ‘Part of it does terrorist acts, but it’s a political movement. It’s an uprising.’”
He reinforced that assessment in the IPT interview, saying he read the Hamas charter twice during deliberations. “They haven’t always been a bombing kind of group,” he said. Hamas’ first actions involved shootings and stabbings. Its preamble to the charter includes this: “Israel will exist and will continue to exist until Islam will obliterate it, just as it obliterated others before it.”
So, to Neal, what is Hamas? “It is marked as a terrorist organization. My personal viewpoint, I didn’t know too much before. I see it as a political struggle. Our country was founded on a terrorist act. The Boston Tea Party wasn’t a tea party, dude. It was a rebellion against the king’s wrath. They fought back against an oppressive government.”
He argues that prosecutors never proved that Palestinian charities, the zakat committees, were controlled by Hamas. HLF routed its money to the committees. Absent that proof of Hamas control, Neal reasons, the defendants can’t be convicted. Within hours of the mistrial, he told reporters the government’s case “was strung together with macaroni noodles.”
“There were so many gaps in the evidence, I could drive a truck through it,” he told the Morning News. That, the three other jurors interviewed said, was not the case. Neal simply refused to consider it as valid evidence. Even at the end, a majority favored convicting Baker and Elashi, Williams and the unnamed juror reported.“
If the jurors’ recollections are correct, Neal’s mind may have already been made up before the deliberations began:
“Neal told the IPT he went into deliberations with no opinion and wanted to see where the evidence took him. The other jurors never knew how he was voting on secret ballots, he said. Neal told interviewers it was the other jurors who had their minds made up before deliberations started, that it was their refusal to budge that dragged out deliberations.
That’s just wrong, the anonymous juror said. “If he believed not guilty across the board, if he wanted to talk about the case, that was fine. But he shouldn’t have said stuff that wasn’t true,” the juror said. Asked to clarify, the juror said, “He talks a lot about people not changing their minds. I changed my mind throughout the deliberations on several defendants. I guarantee you he never changed his mind throughout. He was at not guilty from the time he sat in there.“
In addition, according to the three jurors’ analysis of the deliberations, Neal was an angry man:
“When things got heated, the one constant was Neal’s involvement, the three other jurors interviewed say. Williams remembers one confrontation that prompted other jurors to demand a break to let tempers cool. A woman juror was going toe to toe with Neal, Williams said. At one point, she explained something and said “that is my opinion.”
“Well f*** your opinion,” Neal hollered back at her.“
The IPT article provides significant detail on several claims in the trial as well as the opinions of the interviewed jurors regarding the evidence. I encourage you to click on the link and read the whole thing.
H/T and thanks to Chas.