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One suspended USF student will have two trials

TAMPA — A federal judge ruled Thursday that Ahmed Mohamed will have a separate trial on a charge that he demonstrated on YouTube how to turn a child's toy into a detonator.

Mohamed, 26, will still face trial April 28 with fellow suspended University of South Florida student Youssef Megahed, 21, on a charge of illegally transporting explosive materials.

Mohamed will go to trial on the demonstration charge on May 12, U.S. District Judge Steven D. Merryday said.

Also Thursday, Merryday again denied a request to release Megahed on bail pending trial, and he denied a defense motion to use a jury questionnaire.

In denying Megahed's bail request, Merryday said he reviewed an FBI laboratory report about the materials found in the trunk of the car Megahed rode in with Mohamed on Aug. 4, when they were arrested in Goose Creek, S.C. A Berkeley County, S.C., sheriff's deputy stopped the pair for speeding along U.S. 176, searched their car and found what experts characterized as low-grade explosives.

Mohamed said they were homemade fireworks, and defense attorneys said the FBI report proved that the mixtures contained in PVC pipes were not dangerous and would not explode.

In denying the bail request, Merryday said the new arguments didn't change the fact that he considered Megahed a flight risk.

Merryday held a court hearing on the motions Wednesday. Assistant Federal Public Defender Adam Allen previously had asked that Megahed's trial be severed from Mohamed's.

Allowing testimony about that charge against Mohamed would prejudice Megahed's case, Allen said. A jury would convict Megahed because of his association with Mohamed, Allen argued.

Merryday denied Allen's first motion for separate trials in November. But in his ruling Thursday, Merryday agreed that Megahed and Mohamed were improperly joined in the Aug. 29 federal indictment, which in Count 1 charged only Mohamed with demonstrating how to make and explosive device.

The judge, however, upheld his finding that the two are properly joined in the indictment on the charge for illegally transporting explosive materials.

That count of the indictment charges "Megahed and Mohamed with committing exactly the same crime, at exactly the same time, at exactly the same place, in exactly the same manner, in concert with one another, and in one another's presence (that is, in the same automobile together for many hours driving the highways of Florida, Georgia and South Carolina)," Merryday wrote in his order.

The judge said Mohamed's other charge occurred before the South Carolina road trip. Allen had said in court that Megahed never saw the YouTube video, which investigators said Mohamed admitted making.

Merryday also has denied a request by Linda Moreno, Mohamed's attorney, to use a jury questionnaire used in the terrorism-related trial for Sami Al-Arian. Defense attorneys contend that the overwhelming media interest and publicity will make it difficult to yield an unbiased jury.

One suspended USF student will have two trials 03/06/08 [Last modified: Thursday, March 6, 2008 10:27pm]
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