Venue change seems unlikely for Al-Arian

After three days of jury selection in the trial of suspected terrorist and former USF professor Sami Al-Arian, a pool of approximately 150 potential jurors has been narrowed to 89, increasing the likelihood that the trial will be held in Tampa.

“The ones that are left, those seem like good jurors to me all the way,” U.S. District Judge James Moody said.

The process of whittling down the jury pool will continue today at the federal courthouse in Tampa. Moody said that he wants 12 jurors and seven alternative jurors for the projected six-month-long trial.

At today’s hearing, attorneys for both sides of the case can begin the process through the use of peremptory strikes, a process that allows the prosecution and defense to remove jurors without having to give a reason.

According to a report in the St. Petersburg Times, the defense will have 15 peremptory strikes, while the prosecution is granted nine.

Both sides are also allowed to challenge or give reasons for the removal of a limited number of jurors. Moody will consider the validity of each team’s challenge before ruling on them.

Moody also granted defense attorney William Moffitt’s motion to randomly order the list of 89 jurors. Without the reordering, Moody would have selected each juror beginning with a “heavily weighted” group of jurors selected on Monday that were kept in the jury pool despite objections by the defense.

Seventeen jurors were dismissed from the jury pool Wednesday, mainly due to bias that jurors said was the result of media coverage, discussions with friends and their preconceived perception associating Al-Arian with terrorism. Several were jurors who knew people who had served or were serving in Iraq.

By contrast, juror 363 was admitted into the jury pool after Moody struck down a challenge from the defense.

Prior to the motion, she reacted emotionally to defense attorney’s questions about her experience as a flight attendant aboard a non-threatened plane as the events of Sept. 11 unfolded.

Another was released after explaining that he felt the trial was being used to further the government’s agenda in response to the Sept. 11 attacks.

“The government wants to score a victory in the war against terror, and that’s why these charges were dusted off,” prospective juror 436 said.

Others were dismissed from the pool because they said they would look unfavorably on a defendant exercising his Fifth Amendment right not to testify in his own defense.

“In general I have a feeling that they (defendants who don’t testify) have something to hide,” juror 379 said during the selection process. “If I were a defendant and I had nothing to say, I believe he’d have something to hide.”

Al-Arian and three co-defendants face a life sentence for charges of racketeering and support of terrorist organizations.

Halfway through yesterday’s session, reporters and other visitors were allowed into the courtroom for the first time since the beginning of jury selection. Prior to Wednesday, members of the media were limited to televised proceedings, which lacked sufficient audio.