Protests around the courthouse are part of a larger defense strategy.
Rasmieh (Rasmea) Odeh is a convicted Palestinian terrorist on trial in Detroit for falsely stating on her 1994 visa application that she had not been arrested or convicted of a crime or served time in prison. (Indictment here.)
Odeh became a naturalized citizen in 2004, and now faces up to 10 years in prison (she rejected a plea deal that likely would have kept her out of prison) and deportation.
Odeh was convicted in Israel in the late 1960s of being a member of a terrorist organization and participating in the planting a bomb in a supermarket and at the British consulate. Odeh served 10 years in prison before being released in a prisoner exchange where 76 prisoners in Israeli jails were exchanged for an Israeli soldier captured in Lebanon.
Odeh claims she was tortured into confessing to the crimes leading to her conviction, but there is substantial independent evidence that — at a minimum — she was one of the planners of the supermarket bombing.
Needless to say, the Palestinian activist community, particularly in Chicago, has turned Odeh into a hero and victim of the long arm of Zionism.
After activists indicated they would try to influence the jury through protests around the courthouse, the Judge issued two Orders (here and here) prohibiting such protests, and even arranged for jurors to gather off site before being transported to the courthouse.
The Judge also refused to allow Odeh, as part of her defense, to introduce evidence of her supposed torture or to otherwise contest the Israeli conviction.
That made perfect legal sense, as she is not charged in the current case with being a terrorist or planting the bomb, but failing to disclose her conviction and imprisonment. Odeh undoubtedly was convicted and imprisoned, and had to disclose that conviction and imprisonment; whether the conviction was just is legally irrelevant in the current case.
Those pre-trial rulings were devastating to the defense’s goal of putting Israel on trial in the case, rather than trying the actual charges against Odeh. (Based on reports of the defense opening statement, it appears Odeh will say her brother filled out the application for her because her English was not good — not sure that even is a legal defense, though.)
In reviewing the Judge’s pre-trial rulings, I noted that there did not seem to be any credible way that Odeh could win, “but that’s what they said about O.J. Simpson,” meaning create side issues of race and politics.
And so that seems to becoming true. Based on reports from Odeh supporters in the courtroom for opening statements yesterday, the defense has all but ignored the Judge’s rulings and is seeking to make the case about Israel and the greater conflict.
At the U.S. Palestinian Community Network (USPCN), the author noted how defense counsel repeatedly sought to suggest some of the issues the Judge said could not be argued, Defense opens with scathing indictment of Israel (emphasis added):
Assistant US Attorney Mark Jebson opened for the prosecution, laying out the government’s case. According to him, Rasmea should be found guilty of immigration fraud for her failure to disclose the 1970 conviction by Israel. Lead defense attorney, Michael Deutsch, hit back hard with an opening statement that began, “Odeh was convicted by a military court that was occupying Palestinian land. [With] judges who are soldiers… Rasmea Odeh embodies the history of the Palestinian people.”
He continued by tracing her story, from the 1948 loss of the family home and land to Israeli soldiers and settlers when she was just a year old, to additional personal losses in the 1967 war, to 1969, when Rasmea was one of 500 people arrested by the Israeli military in a massive, indiscriminate sweep. Though he was barred by the judge’s rulings from mentioning torture, he told the jury that after her arrest, Rasmea was interrogated for weeks. “Use your imagination about what ‘interrogation for weeks’ means.” The prosecution quickly objected and Judge Drain sustained the objection.
Deutsch added, “Rasmea is respected, honored, and revered. You will see her honesty and integrity when she testifies. In 2004, she applied; in 2013, they suddenly charged her. Ask yourself why. Ask yourself why they are bringing this case nine years later.” Again, the prosecution objected, and again Judge Drain sustained.
In the end, Deutsch urged the jury to remain independent, “use your sense of justice, and find [Rasmea] not guilty.”
At the anti-Israel Electronic Intifida, an author who attended notes the strategy (emphasis added):
[Defense counsel Michael] Deutsch… used his opening statement to push against the strict boundaries Judge Gershwin Drain has placed on the trial. Triggering a number of objections, Deutsch’s bold opening statement provided the jurors with a sense — if not an actual view — of the complicating factors that led to Odeh’s false statements on her 2004 application for naturalization.
“It would be ideal if I could sit in your living room and tell you the history of Rasmea Odeh,” Deutsch said. “Rasmea Odeh embodies the history of the Palestinian people: a story of great suffering and great resilience.”
Deutsch briefly told the jurors that Odeh had lost her home twice in the span of less than twenty years to Zionist forces; that her father immigrated to Detroit, where he worked in a factory until he was seriously injured; and that she was arrested in 1969, in a massive arrest campaign by the Israeli army, during which over 500 other Palestinians were swept up….
When Deutsch began to suggest to the jury the “extent” of the interrogation Rasmea Odeh endured, the prosecution objected. The judge upheld the objection….
Again, skirting close to the perimeter of the confines of the trial, Deutsch asked the jury to consider why it took the government nine years to charge Odeh with lying on her naturalization application. The government objected to that question, with the judge upholding the objection.
Based on these reports, it is obvious that jury nullification is the defense goal — having the jury disregard the actual crime charged, and instead seeking to render a verdict on extraneous issues, in this case the larger geopolitical dispute:
Jury nullification occurs when a jury returns a verdict of “Not Guilty” despite its belief that the defendant is guilty of the violation charged. The jury in effect nullifies a law that it believes is either immoral or wrongly applied to the defendant whose fate they are charged with deciding.
I can’t say I blame the defense counsel, any more than I could blame Johnny Cochran for telling the jury that “if the glove does not fit, you must acquit.” That’s defense counsel’s job — to get the client off by what ever lawful means possible.
It is in this context, though, that the protests at the courthouse and the packing of the courtroom by supporters is a key part of the jury nullification strategy.
We’ll see how far Judge Drain lets the defense get away with this jury nullification strategy.DONATE
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