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Published: Wednesday, 10/31/2007

Former prosecutor in Detroit terror trial acquitted

ASSOCIATED PRESS

DETROIT A jury to day acquitted former federal prosecutor Richard Convertino of charges that he conspired to hide evidence in the nation s first major terrorism trial after the Sept. 11 attacks.

The government said Convertino, a former assistant U.S. attorney, so badly wanted to see convictions in the terrorism case, which went to trial in 2003, that he broke the law himself. But lawyers for Convertino argued he did nothing wrong and had no reason to conspire to hide evidence.

The jury also acquitted Harry Smith III, an ex-State Department investigator, in the case.

It s a just end to a politically motivated prosecution, Convertino said after the verdict was read.

Prosecutors say Convertino was e-mailed photos of a Jordanian hospital that should have been turned over to the defense at the 2003 trial. And prosecutors say Convertino allowed Smith to testify that it would be difficult to get photos of the hospital even though they both knew photos existed.

We believe in the case and the importance to the system and respect the jury s verdict, said government lawyer Daniel Schwager.

The defense said the government didn t prove that Convertino intentionally withheld the photos and no conspiracy existed. Smith s lawyer also argued that his client s testimony was truthful.

Jurors started deliberations in the case this morning following nearly three weeks of testimony before U.S. District Judge Arthur Tarnow.

For two years, Convertino led the government s case against four North African men accused of operating a sleeper terrorist cell. Two of the four, Karim Koubriti and Abdel-Ilah Elmardoudi, were convicted in 2003 of conspiring to provide material support and resources to terrorists, and Convertino won praise from the Bush administration for his successful convictions.

Smith helped in the investigation and testified for the government at the trial.

His lawyer, Thomas Cranmer, said Smith was relieved by the verdict. Overall, the prosecution s case at least to me didn t make sense and I was hopeful the jury would see that, Cranmer said.

A federal judge overturned the verdicts at the Justice Department s request after prosecutors discovered that some documents that could have aided the defense during the trial were not turned over by the government as required.

Convertino was indicted last year on allegations that he conspired to obstruct justice and lied to a federal judge in connection with case.

The indictment said the photographs of the Jordanian hospital could have helped defense lawyers at the 2003 trial undermine a government argument about how well a surveillance sketch of the hospital matched reality. The sketch was found in an apartment used by part of the suspected Detroit cell.

But the defense at the current trial said the photos would have helped prosecutors at the 2003 trial.

Read more in later editions of The Blade and toledoblade.com



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