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Jordianian student acquitted in 911 perjury case { November 17 2006 }

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November 17, 2006
Man Acquitted in 9/11 Perjury Case

A jury in Federal District Court in Manhattan returned a verdict of not guilty in the second trial of a Jordanian immigrant who was accused of trying to mislead a grand jury investigating the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.

The jury of 9 women and 3 men found the immigrant, Osama Awadallah, not guilty on all counts. In May, a different jury became hopelessly deadlocked over Mr. Awadallah’s fate, with all but one juror favoring conviction.

The jurors, who deliberated for about an hour on Thursday, sent a note to Judge Shira Scheindlin at 3:25 p.m. today saying they had reached a verdict.

As the verdict was read Mr. Awadallah turned and smiled at his father, Ismail, who clapped quietly with the palms of his hands.

Thanking the jurors for their service, Judge Scheindlin said, “There’s an old saying — the government always wins because at the end of the trial justice is done.”

She added, “This verdict gives finality to a long-running case.”

Prosecutors had contended that Mr. Awadallah lied repeatedly when he told a grand jury in October 2001 that he did not know Khalid al-Midhar, who took part in the attacks, and when he denied writing Mr. Midhar’s name in a school notebook.

“Mr. Awadallah didn’t tell the truth over and over and over,” Karl Metzner, an assistant United States attorney, said on Thursday in his closing arguments. Mr. Awadallah’s lawyer, Jesse Berman, countered by saying that his client never meant to give the grand jury wrong information, and did so only after enduring 20 days of incarceration that left him confused, frightened and paranoid.

The case began when perjury charges were filed against Mr. Awadallah five years ago. The charges were thrown out by one judge and reinstated by an appeals court. Mr. Awadallah’s first trial, in the spring, ended in a hung jury.

Mr. Awadallah, 26, was charged with two counts of perjury and faced a maximum of 10 years in prison followed by deportation if had been convicted.

Mr. Awadallah has never been accused of plotting with the terrorists or having advance knowledge of the attacks.

The government’s interest in Mr. Awadallah began after investigators discovered a scrap of paper with the name “Osama” and Mr. Awadallah’s former telephone number in the glove compartment of a car that Mr. Hazmi had left at Dulles International Airport, near Washington.

At the time, Mr. Awadallah was a 21-year-old college student in San Diego, where Mr. Hazmi and Mr. Midhar had lived until about a year before they boarded American Airlines Flight 77, which crashed into the Pentagon.

Under questioning by the F.B.I., Mr. Awadallah said he knew Mr. Hazmi, who worked at the same gas station and worshiped at the same mosque. He also said he remembered an acquaintance of Mr. Hazmi and described him physically but said he had never learned his name. When shown a picture of Khalid al-Midhar, Mr. Awadallah claimed not to recognize him.

After two days of interviews, Mr. Awadallah was detained as a material witness on Sept. 21, 2001, and was held in isolation at several jails.

In his first grand jury appearance nearly three weeks later, Mr. Awadallah again denied knowing anyone named Khalid. But after a long day of testimony, prosecutors showed him an essay booklet given to them by Mr. Awadallah’s teacher of English as a Second Language. In it, written just four days after the terrorist attacks, was the passage: “One of the quietest people I have met is Nawaf. Another one, his name is Khalid.”

Mr. Awadallah at first said the booklet appeared altered, because he would not have spelled “Khalid” that way. Mr. Berman said that his client realized his mistake shortly after testifying and alerted his lawyers to it, but that prosecutors chose not to call the grand jurors back into the room.

When Mr. Awadallah appeared again before the grand jury five days later, he acknowledged that the handwriting was his and that he now remembered meeting Mr. Midhar.

During the trial, Mr. Berman showed a chart of bruises on Mr. Awadallah’s upper arms and the back of his neck, which he said his client had sustained at the hands of guards. The government has denied any mistreatment.

Ray Rivera contributed reporting.

Copyright 2006 The New York Times Company

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