Judge: Fort Dix plot trial will start Sept. 29

CAMDEN, N.J. (AP) - September 9, 2008

You can read court papers in the Fort Dix Case by clicking here.

Defense lawyers had said that with one expert witness bowing out, they needed more time to find another. Government prosecutors said the request was reasonable because granting it would give the defense less grounds to appeal if there is a conviction.

"I'm not afraid of an appeal," said U.S. District Judge Robert Kugler, who decided to move the trial ahead.

"We could go on for years, spending millions more searching for that needle in the haystack and not finding it," said Kugler, who noted that the defense so far has cost taxpayers about $2 million.

The five defendants - all foreign-born Muslim men in their 20s who have lived much of their lives in the southern New Jersey suburbs of Philadelphia - were arrested in May 2007 and accused of plotting to sneak onto Fort Dix to attack soldiers.

They face charges including attempted murder, conspiracy and weapons offenses and could be sentenced to life in prison of they are convicted on all counts. They have been in federal custody since they were arrested.

While the case stands as a prime example of a proactive law enforcement response to a perceived terrorist threat, it also presents a challenge for prosecutors as questions are raised about whether a crime was being plotted at all.

Defense lawyers appear to be planning to question the role of two paid government informants. Rocco Cipparone, who represents Mohamad Ibrahim Shnewer, said he is considering claiming that his client was entrapped by one of the informants. He also said he would raise a claim that informant Mahmoud Omar was committing crimes even as he worked for the FBI.

Defense lawyers hired former Gregory Lee, a former federal drug enforcement agent, to examine the way the informants were used and handled. But Lee's role became more complicated recently.

An Army reservist, he learned he was being called to active duty next week and would be deployed to Iraq next month. That presented a problem in scheduling his testimony.

But the U.S. Attorney's Office found another problem: the Department of Defense has a regulation, which is generally not enforced for reservists, that bars military personnel from testifying against the country's interest in any trial.

On Tuesday, Lee said that to comply with the law he would not be able to testify at all - whether the trial was delayed or not.

Defense lawyers asked for time to find another expert. Kugler on Tuesday denied that request. He said Lee's findings so far might not be admissible in court - and that the defense did not need an expert to say what Lee might have said.

Cipparone said the lawyers would look for a new expert anyway.

Under the current schedule, an expert witness for the defense would not be called to testify until sometime in December in a trial expected to last months.

Click here to get the latest Philadelphia news and headlines from across the Delaware and Lehigh valleys.

Copyright © 2021 WPVI-TV. All Rights Reserved.