If you've been reading our coverage of the FBI-assisted Pioneer Courthouse Square bomb plot, you know we've been airing an interesting discussion about whether all the federal help given to Mohamed Osman Mohamud was good police work—a sting that ensnared a committed extremist—or something else: entrapment.
Well, no surprises here, but just like in FBI terror sting cases from all across the country, planting that particular seed of doubt emerged today as the heart of Mohamud's legal strategy.
At an arraignment hearing so packed that only a few reporters were allowed in (they were forced to give the rest of us the scoop afterward), Mohamud, who emerged with a smile, pleaded not guilty to a felony charge of attempting to use a weapon of mass destruction.
And Deputy Chief Public Defender Stephen Sady, sitting besided his subdued 19-year-old client, accused the FBI of creating a "very unusual" legal situation by allowing "quite sophisticated government agents" to go spend the past six months or so "basically grooming" his client into a would-be terrorist.
And then, as a topper, he said, the FBI waited only hours to widely distribute the the detailed affidavit in Mohamud's arrest Friday night, turning it into a "press release."
Sady was irked in particular that the FBI's first sting-related meeting with Mohamud, unlike every other meeting with him, wasn't recorded because of presumed "technical difficulties." Sady argued that the first meeting in cases potentially involving entrapment often is the most important when assessing whether a defendant was legally enmeshed in the plot.
"The arrest is obviously timed for maximum impact and maximum publicity," Sady said.
In response, Ethan Knight, a deputy US attorney representing the prosecution, pointed out that in subsequent meetings, it was Mohamud who choose the timing and location of the attack. The affidavit also says that agents, posing as Mohamud's Islamist handlers, allegedly offered him alternatives to detonating a car bomb—including merely praying in support of jihad.
Sady, however, persisted and later sought a motion that would preserve not only the recordings of Mohamud's meetings with undercover agents, but also the devices used to make the recordings. US Magistrate Judge John Acosta allowed it, but asked Sady to submit a more specific request by tomorrow.
Acosta eventually set a tentative date for a jury trial: February 1, 2011. And no more than 15 minutes after Mohamud was brought out, he was whisked back away.
After the jump, see a photo of the statement the Federal Public Defender's Office handed out after the arraignment hearing. (No, they told me, they don't have any digital copies to send, and for me to copy and paste.)