Five Miami men convicted of conspiring to support the terrorist organization al-Qaida lost their appeal Tuesday for a new trial.
A federal appeals court ruled that U.S. District Judge Joan Lenard did not make a mistake when she removed a main juror and replaced her with an alternate juror during trial deliberations that led to the men’s convictions.
The judge removed the unidentified woman, known only as Juror No. 4, in late April 2009 because the other 11 jurors said she refused to deliberate about the five remaining defendants in a group originally dubbed the “Liberty City Seven.”
A three-judge panel of the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Atlanta had to find a “clear error” by the trial judge to overrule Lenard’s decision to eject Juror No. 4.
“In light of the consistent answers given by eleven of the jurors, and the vague and evasive answers given by Juror No. 4, we cannot say that the district court clearly erred in finding that Juror No. 4 was not willing to follow the court’s instructions,” the panel ruled unanimously.
The trial judge’s decision led to the juror’s replacement by the alternate juror, a man, and the eventual conviction of the five defendants on material-support conspiracy charges. One other defendant was acquitted and another defendant had been found not guilty in an earlier trial.
The removal of Juror No. 4 from the 12-person panel carried great consequences at the trial, the third in the case after two previous mistrials.
Had she been allowed to hold out as the minority juror, prompting a third mistrial in the controversial FBI case, the five defendants could have walked out of the courtroom because the U.S. Attorney”s Office had already said it would not try them a fourth time.
The men were accused of conspiring to aid al-Qaida to blow up Chicago’s Sears Tower and FBI offices in Miami and other cities.
In late 2009, Lenard sentenced Narseal Batiste, 37, the ringleader, to 13Â½ years; his self-described “No. 1 soldier,” Patrick Abraham, 32, to just over nine years; Stanley Phanor, 36, to eight years; Burson Augustin, 26, to six years; and Rotschild Augustine, 27, to seven years.