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Jury seated in trial of former USF student Megahed

TAMPA — Prosecutors will call their first witness today at the federal explosives trial for former University of South Florida student Youssef Megahed.

A jury of seven women and five men was seated late Tuesday, along with two women and two men who will serves as alternates.

Among them: a mortgage underwriter, a corporate and securities law attorney, an unemployed mechanic, two accountants, a Web designer and a 20-year Air Force veteran who said his son-in-law is Muslim.

Court will resume at 9 a.m. with opening statements from the prosecution and defense.

Jury selection stretched into a two-day process as U.S. District Judge Steven Merryday individually polled the 35 potential candidates about personal beliefs and knowledge of the case.

"I make no apologies for that. I think it's essential that I have done so," Merryday said Tuesday before releasing the jury candidates for lunch.

Megahed, 23, and fellow student Ahmed Mohamed were arrested Aug. 4, 2007, near Goose Creek, S.C., after a deputy stopped them for speeding and found low-grade explosive materials in their trunk. More than half of the potential jurors said they'd heard something about the case in the news.

At least three potential jurors held firm to beliefs that they couldn't be fair and impartial if selected. They were each later excused.

The judge asked each jury candidate whether he or she could be fair and impartial, considering that Megahed is not a U.S. citizen and is a Muslim. Most said they could.

Merryday also inquired about whether jurors had visited Savannah, Ga., or Goose Creek, locations that will be mentioned at trial. Several had been to Savannah, but none of the jurors had ever been to Goose Creek. One man, however, expounded on his response.

"I couldn't put my finger on it. But I'm pretty sure it's in North Carolina," he said.

"Your first inclination was correct," Merryday replied, drawing laughter from those in the courtroom who anticipated the punch line. "You couldn't put your finger on it."

The man was later excused when the defense used a strike to keep him from serving. The man had disclosed on Monday that he called the FBI with a tip about Megahed's case, though he didn't elaborate.

Mohamed is serving a 15-year federal prison sentence. He pleaded guilty to providing material support to terrorists after the FBI investigation revealed a YouTube video produced by Mohamed, which he admitted was to show enemies of the United States how to turn a child's remote controlled toy into a detonator.

Kevin Graham can be reached at kgraham@sptimes.com or (813) 226-3433.

Jury seated in trial of former USF student Megahed 03/17/09 [Last modified: Tuesday, March 17, 2009 11:31pm]
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