MIAMI — It took three trials, three juries and nearly three years, but federal prosecutors finally succeeded in convicting five Miami men of plotting to start an antigovernment insurrection by destroying Chicago's Sears Tower and bombing FBI offices. One man was acquitted.
When the FBI swarmed the downtrodden Liberty City neighborhood to make the arrests in June 2006, the administration of President George W. Bush hailed the case as a prime example of the Justice Department's post-Sept. 11 policy of disrupting terror plots in the earliest possible stages.
Yet hours of FBI recordings of terrorist talk contrasted with little concrete evidence of an evolving plot, triggering two mistrials because juries could not agree on verdicts against Narseal Batiste and five followers. One of the original seven defendants was acquitted in the first trial.
Finally, the third jury found the way on its sixth day of deliberations on Tuesday.
Batiste, 35, was the only one convicted of all four terrorism-related conspiracy counts, including plotting to provide material support to terrorists and conspiring to wage war against the United States. He faces up to 70 years in prison.
Batiste's right-hand man, Patrick Abraham, 29, was convicted of three counts and faces 50 years in prison.
Convicted of two counts and facing 30 years are Burson Augustin, 24, Rotschild Augustine, 25, and Stanley Grant Phanor, 33. Naudimar Herrera, 25, was acquitted.
U.S. District Judge Joan Lenard set sentencing for July 27.
Herrera criticized the prosecution as bogus and insisted that the men banded together not for terrorism but to explore ways to lift up the impoverished, drug-infested area.
After a two-month trial, the jury had to restart deliberations last week after one juror was excused for illness and a second was booted off the panel for being uncooperative. Court security officials escorted the jurors — whose names were kept secret — out of the building before they could be interviewed.
Prosecutors Richard Gregorie and Jacqueline Arango focused on the group's intent as captured on dozens of FBI audio and video recordings. Batiste is repeatedly heard espousing violence against the U.S. government and saying the men should start a "full ground war" that would "kill all the devils."
"I want to fight some jihad," Batiste said.
A key piece of evidence is an FBI video of the entire group pledging an oath of allegiance, or "bayat," to al-Qaida and Osama bin Laden in a March 16, 2006, ceremony led by an Arabic-speaking FBI informant posing as "Brother Mohammed" from al-Qaida. Testimony also showed the men took photographs and video of possible targets in Miami, including the FBI building, a courthouse complex and a synagogue.
Batiste, who testified in all three trials, insisted he was only going along with Mohammed so he could obtain $50,000 or more for his struggling construction business and a nascent community outreach program. Batiste was leader of a Miami chapter of a sect known as the Moorish Science Temple, which combines elements of Christianity, Judaism and Islam and does not recognize the U.S. government's full authority.
Defense lawyers also said the case was an FBI setup driven by informants who manipulated the group.
"This is a manufactured crime," Batiste attorney Ana Jhones said during the trial.
A seventh man who was acquitted in the first trial, 34-year-old Lyglenson Lemorin, is being deported to his native Haiti anyway. Less stringent immigration laws make it easier for U.S. officials to use the terrorism allegations against Lemorin.