TAMPA — A federal appeals panel on Wednesday backed a U.S. district judge's decision to exclude computer evidence that prosecutors intended to use at the explosives trial of former University of South Florida student Youssef Megahed.
Prosecutors argued before the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals last week that U.S. District Judge Steven D. Merryday overstepped his bounds when he excluded nine video clips taken from Megahed's home computer. Merryday excluded the evidence as a sanction after prosecutors failed to disclose it to the defense before a required deadline.
Assistant U.S. Attorney David Rhodes called the evidence possibly crucial to the government's cases.
The clips, each about 20 seconds or less, show rockets launching in combat zones in the Middle East and explosive devices being used against U.S. military vehicles.
Defense attorneys argued that the evidence had nothing to do with the charges against Megahed, who is accused of illegally transporting explosive materials across state lines.
The appeals panel seated in Jacksonville, issued this one-sentence opinion on Wednesday: "After review and oral argument, we conclude that the appellant United States has not shown, at this juncture, reversible error in the district court's pretrial rulings as to the particular items of evidence that are the subject of this appeal."
Steve Cole, a spokesman for the U.S. Attorney's Office, declined to comment. It was unclear Wednesday whether prosecutors would ask for a rehearing before the full Circuit Court.
Adam Allen, Megahed's public defender, said he's ready to move forward. "We're pleased with the 11th Circuit's ruling and want to finally get this case to trial," Allen said.
Megahed and fellow student Ahmed Mohamed were arrested on Aug. 4, 2007, after a South Carolina deputy stopped them for speeding and found explosive materials in the trunk.
Mohamed is serving a 15-year prison sentence for providing material support to terrorists. He posted a YouTube video showing how to turn a toy into a detonator. Megahed remains on home detention awaiting trial.
Kevin Graham can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (813) 226-3433.