Jury deliberates in trial of Liberian accused of war crimes

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Jury deliberates in trial of Liberian accused of war crimes. Matt O'Donnell reports during Action News at 4:30 a.m. on October 18, 2017. (WPVI)

The trial of an accused Liberian war criminal charged with lying about his past to enter the U.S. neared its end Tuesday as jurors began deliberations and a defense attorney said prosecutors had been "hoodwinked" by witnesses telling stories of gruesome atrocities.

Mohammed Jabbateh, 51, is charged with hiding his history as a Liberian rebel commander when he was seeking asylum and residency in the U.S. nearly two decades ago.

Authorities called several witnesses for their case in U.S. District Court in Philadelphia who claimed to have been victims of Jabbateh's rebels or to have personally seen war atrocities carried out by the defendant, who was called Jungle Jabbah during the country's 1990s civil war.

One witness said Jabbateh sliced a baby from a pregnant woman's stomach and strung her intestines up as rope at a rebel check point, according to court documents. Another recalled a 1994 incident where Jabbateh ordered his soldiers to kill a town chief whose heart was then boiled and eaten, the documents said.

Disclosing any one of those actions would have barred Jabbateh from lawfully entering the U.S. but "he made a choice not to be honest during the process," said Assistant U.S. Attorney Linwood C. Wright Jr., during the government's closing arguments. "For a while, it worked. Until somebody started looking."

Jabbateh has admitted to being known as Jungle Jabbah, but he has vehemently denied committing any wartime atrocities. His attorney, Gregory Pagano, has said that his client never deceived immigration officials and that he wanted to come to the U.S. because he was jailed without food for weeks in Liberia.

Pagano also said that the government's witnesses have political and ethnic ties that put them at odds with Jabbateh and that prosecutors haven't presented sufficient forensic evidence to link his client to the war crimes.

"These good men have been hoodwinked," Pagano said of the prosecutors. "There hasn't been a shred of evidence that any of these witnesses' events actually occurred."

Jabbateh was arrested last year outside Philadelphia.

Jurors are scheduled to continue deliberations on Wednesday.
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