DETROIT (AP) – The trial of four men accused of conspiring to support terrorism began yesterday with a judge barring the public and the media from the early stages of jury selection, which is expected to last at least until next week.
U.S. District Judge Gerald Rosen closed the hearing at the request of defense attorneys, citing the need to ensure fairness in the first trial in the United States for an alleged terror cell detected after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.
“My paramount responsibility in this case is to protect the fair trial rights – not only of the defendants but of the government too,” Rosen said.
By the end of the day, nine jurors had participated in the hearing and six were placed in the group from which the final jury selection will be made, according to an update posted on the court’s Web site.
Rosen said he was concerned that the potential jurors might not speak as frankly in the presence of media, and that news reports about the part of jury selection in which potential jurors are questioned to see if they can be fair might taint the pool.
Lawyers from the Detroit Free Press and The Detroit News argued to keep the selection process open, saying secrecy can create skepticism and important information would go unreported. Government lawyers also said jury selection should be open.
“What we are dealing with is public confidence in this institution in this very high-profile trial,” said attorney James Stewart, who represented the News.
But Rosen, who noted that jurors have expressed concerns about their safety and privacy, said the presence of the press could “chill the candor” of the responses. Other options, such as allowing public access to the questioning of some jurors, would be too unwieldy, he said.
Sixteen jurors, including four alternates, will be picked and are to remain anonymous. A group of 220 potential jurors filled out lengthy questionnaires last month that covered topics such as whether they had visited the World Trade Center site.
Karim Koubriti, Ahmed Hannan, Farouk Ali-Haimoud and Abdel-Ilah Elmardoudi are charged with conspiracy to provide material support or resources to terrorists. The charges stem from a raid on a Detroit apartment less than a week after the Sept. 11 attacks, but are not related to the strikes on New York and Washington.