Fort Dix suspects plead not guilty to new charges

January 18, 2008 11:54:59 AM PST
The five men accused of plotting to sneak onto Fort Dix and kill soldiers there pleaded not guilty on Friday to the latest charges against them and received a new date for their trial. U.S. District Judge Robert Kugler set jury selection for Sept. 29. Prosecutors said they expected the trial itself to take four to six weeks.

A lawyer for one of the suspects said he would be open to having the trial earlier if he and other defense lawyers could be ready earlier.

The men - all foreign-born Muslims in their 20s who had spent years in the Philadelphia suburbs - were arrested on May 7 and charged with conspiracy to kill military personnel in an alleged plot that was never carried out. Some of them also faced weapons charges.

This week, prosecutors added attempted murder charges against all five men and more weapons charges against four of them. All face life sentences if they are convicted of the conspiracy charge. Being convicted on all counts could add decades more.

In court Friday, the lawyers for all five entered not guilty pleas to all charges.

Preparing for the trial has been an arduous task because the government gathered a massive amount of evidence during a 15-month investigation.

On Friday, federal prosecutors said they would give defense lawyers recordings of 400 hours of some 12,000 telephone calls taken from the cell phone of suspect Eljvir Duka and two cell phones and a home phone of Mohamad Ibrahim Shnewer over a period of about nine months. That comes to about 10 calls per day on each of four phones.

Deputy U.S. Attorney William Fitzpatrick said most of the calls were not relevant to the case. "They didn't talk to each other on the phone," he said.

"We have people ordering pizzas and scheduling doctor's appointments?" Kugler asked.

"Yes," Fitzpatrick said.

Still, the defense lawyers say they and their clients need to plow through all the evidence - which now runs to well over 1,000 hours of recordings - to see if they can find anything that helps their case.

Also at the hearing, the defense lawyers said they would seek to have the trial held outside the Camden area because media coverage there has been extensive and could taint the jury pool.


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