Trial begins in Ft. Dix plot

September 29, 2008 4:21:53 PM PDT
The process of whittling down 1,500 potential jurors to a group of 18 started Monday in Camden federal court.Those chosen will decide whether five suspects plotted to kill american troops at Fort Dix.

Defense attorney Mike Riley worries public perceptions will make it hard to try the case.

"It's guilt by association. It's guilt by fear and we have to fight against that and it's going to be very difficult," Riley said.

Riley represents Shain Duka, one of the 5 men accused of plotting to sneak onto Ft. Dix and kill soldiers there.

A 6th suspect, Agron Abdullahu, pleaded guilty last year to providing weapons to some of the other defendants.

Riley says the defendants may have made anti-American comments and shot guns at a range in the Poconos, but that doesnt make them terrorists.

He says there was no conspiracy.

The Ft. Dix 5 were not in court Monday, but the first of 1,500 potential jurors came to fill out a 30 page form with 115 questions like "Do you have an opinion about the word Islamic or radical Islamic fundamentalist?" and "If you hear an allegation that any one of the defendants supported or sympathized with Osama Bin Laden, al Qaeda, or the Taliban would you be biased for or against that particular defendant?"

"We're trying to avoid people with knee-jerk and biased reactions," Riley said. "We're trying to find fair people."

Riley says in today's climate that will be hard.

The US Attorney's office had no comment.

As potential jurors complete the questionaire attorneys from both sides will review them and submit a list of names to the judge. Those people will then be questioned individually under oath.

Security has been stepped up inside and outside of the federal courthouse on Cooper Street. For the length of the trial police will close a lane of traffic closest to the building.

"There's no question this is a high profile not only in the area but around the country and we want to take all the steps we can to make ure it's a safe trial that goes on here," said U.S. Marshal Jim Ploisis.

Jury selection could last two week, and the trial could last another five weeks.

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