Letters tell an alternate story in Fort Dix case

By: By GEOFF MULVIHILL, Associated Press Writer
By: By GEOFF MULVIHILL, Associated Press Writer

MOUNT LAUREL, N.J. (AP) - Relatives of five Muslim immigrants
convicted of plotting to massacre U.S. soldiers last year are still
professing the men's innocence.

Since their conviction, more than a half-dozen family members
have sent letters to U.S. District Judge Robert Kugler asking for
the verdicts to be overturned. The letters are the latest in a case
where participants have come to see the judge as a pen pal: all
five of the convicts have written Kugler at least once since they
were arrested nearly two years ago.

The five, who lived in and around Philadelphia for years, were
found guilty by a federal jury in December of conspiring to kill
U.S. military personnel. They were acquitted of attempted murder
after prosecutors acknowledged the men were probably months away
from an attack and did not have a specific plan.

Prosecutors said the men were considering an attack on Fort Dix,
which the Army uses primarily to train reservists for deployments
in Iraq.

But defense lawyers had argued that the alleged plot was all
talk - that the men weren't seriously planning anything and that
they were manipulated and goaded by two paid FBI informants.

The newest letters are impassioned.

"There was no conspiracy with my sons ... they are good men
with good hearts," wrote Zurata Duka, the mother of three of the
men.

The men are due in court on Thursday for the first time since
they were convicted for a hearing on their motions to have some of
the jury's verdict dismissed. In legal filings, lawyers for the men
- all foreign-born Muslims who lived for years in the Philadelphia
suburb of Cherry Hill - say the verdicts were not supported by the
evidence presented in the case.

It's not unusual for someone convicted of a crime to make such a
claim. In this case, the government filed a long brief arguing that
there was ample evidence to convict the men. Prosecutors have said
the men trained with weapons, talked about jihad and that at least
two of them discussed how to attack Fort Dix, about 25 miles east
of Philadelphia.

Through its verdict, the jury agreed with the government. After
a trial that stretched for nearly two months last year, a jury took
six days to find the men guilty of conspiracy charges but not
guilty on attempted murder charges. Four of them were also
convicted of weapons charges.

All the men could get life in prison if the sentencing hearings
move ahead on schedule next month.

Convicted were: Mohamad Shnewer, a Jordanian-born cab driver;
Turkish-born convenience store clerk Serdar Tatar; and brothers
Dritan, Eljvir and Shain Duka, ethnic Albanians from the former
Yugoslavia, who had a roofing business. A sixth man arrested and
charged only with gun offenses pleaded guilty earlier.

None of the men testified at the trial, but four of them have
written letters to the judge since then to try to tell at least
pieces of their side of the story.

Shnewer, who spent the most time speaking with one of the
informants, apologized for getting the other men in trouble.

"I believe the jury's decision was derived from the lies and
the allegations that I said about my co-defendants," he wrote in a
January letter to Kugler.

Richard Sparaco, the lawyer for Tatar, cited that statement in a
motion to try to show that his client was not in a plot.

The legal arguments, however, aren't likely to have the
emotional punch expressed by the relatives' letters.

"I really hope that justice is near to us because I cant live
without my husband, brother, and brother in laws," wrote Hnan
Shnewer, the sister of Shnewer and the wife of Eljvir Duka.

The U.S. Attorney's Office has not responded to the letters on
behalf of the convicts. Spokesman Greg Reinert said that the
government do its talking in the courtroom.

(Copyright 2009 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)


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