TAMPA — The federal gun case against Karim Moussaoui could hinge on the jury's interpretation of one word: possess.
"You're here because of that word," defense attorney Deeann Athan said in court Monday as Moussaoui's trial on a student visa violation began.
Prosecutors say Moussaoui, 28, broke the law on July 19 by posing for a photograph at a gun range with a firearm in his hand.
Federal law prohibits people with student visas from possessing firearms.
At the time, Moussaoui, an Egyptian national, was completing a computer engineering degree at the University of South Florida. He has since graduated.
Court records have linked him to Youssef Megahed, 22, a suspended USF student scheduled for trial March 28 on a federal explosives charge.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Robert Monk said he planned to use surveillance footage from the Shoot Straight gun range on U.S. 301 to show Moussaoui there with Megahed this past summer.
Monk aired portions of the footage as gun range owner James Scott Patrick testified. Patrick identified Megahed as a member of his gun range. A man prosecutors have yet to identify is standing with Megahed inside a shooting stall.
Megahed gives the man a rented Walther G22 rifle, and the man positions it on his shoulder three times and appears to point at a target.
Prosecutors have previously said they retrieved a photograph of Moussaoui posing with a rifle while searching Megahed's home computer.
During jury selection on Monday, one potential juror asked whether Moussaoui's charges had anything to do with the trial for Megahed and his co-defendant, Ahmed Mohamed, 26.
"That's a different case," U.S. District Judge James Whittemore said. The man who asked the question was later dismissed.
During her opening statements, Athan dissected Monk's use of the words "possess" and "possession" when talking about the single charge against Moussaoui.
"Did he control that firearm and ammunition?" Athan asked jurors. "It wasn't loaded. He didn't rent it. He didn't shoot it. He held it to pose for some photos and then gave it back."
Athan called it a moment in time that lasted 2 1/2 minutes.
A gun range instructor looked on from nearby, and more than a dozen cameras captured Moussaoui's every move, she said.
"Who really is in possession of the gun?" Athan asked. "Who really controls the gun?"
The trial resumes today at 9 a.m. Testimony is expected to last through Thursday.
Kevin Graham can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (813) 226-3433.