TAMPA – Attorneys for Sami Al-Arian, the former University of South Florida professor accused of raising money for a Palestinian terrorist group, have asked a federal judge to move the upcoming trial out of Florida. Citing the constant barrage of news coverage, the recent U.S. Senate campaign in which Al-Arian became a central topic of debate, and evidence of “serious bias and prejudice” among potential jurors, attorneys said their client could not receive a fair trial in Tampa. “The pressure to convict him in this community would be tremendous,” the attorneys wrote in the filing to U.S. District Judge James Moody. Attorneys William Moffitt and Linda Moreno said in their motion that during the past 10 years, “the print media in Tampa has associated Dr. Al-Arian with every act of terrorism that has occurred on American soil.”
They claim that because of this “media harangue,” “a significant portion of the community believe him to be guilty.” Moffitt and Moreno said the recent U.S. Senate campaign drew even more attention to Al- Arian’s case. The references began during the Democratic primaries between Betty Castor and Peter Deutsch, when the Deutsch campaign began referring to USF as “Jihad University” and making allegations that Castor failed to take action when she found “a terrorist in her midst.” The negative publicity grew more intense, the motion claims, when Castor faced Republican Mel Martinez in the general election and local airwaves were saturated with ads featuring Al-Arian. During the first televised debate of the campaign, NBC’s Tim Russert spent one-third of the time asking the candidates about Al-Arian. And then came the questionnaires.
Al-Arian’s attorneys claim that prejudice is rampant in the answers to surveys the court sent to prospective jurors. Of 328 potential jurors who returned the questionnaires, 155 already have been dismissed after saying that they had made up their minds that Al-Arian was guilty or because they made prejudicial comments about Muslims and people of Arab descent. (MORE)