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Osmakac terrorism trial delayed over competency question

TAMPA — Sami Osmakac's terrorism trial was on cue to start.

He was on his fifth attorney since his January 2012 arrest, with no new word of strife.

U.S. District Judge Mary S. Scriven had even agreed to tolerate Osmakac's refusal to stand up when she entered the courtroom.

But the Oct. 21 trial was delayed Tuesday so that Osmakac might get an independent psychiatric exam to determine whether he is mentally competent to assist in his defense on charges of having an unregistered AK-47 and attempting to use a weapon of mass destruction.

Osmakac, 26, known in Tampa Bay's Muslim community as a democracy-hating extremist, is accused of planning attacks on local bars and bridges as payback for wrongs done to Muslims. No attack was carried out.

The investigation started when the Kosovo native, most recently from Pinellas Park, went looking for an al-Qaida flag and met an undercover FBI agent who prosecutors say hooked him up with inoperative weapons.

He's been in jail for 20 months, awaiting a federal trial.

Osmakac, his family and a psychologist have all seen a deterioration in his mental status, attorney George Tragos wrote in a motion last week, seeking the trial postponement to allow time for a psychiatrist.

After a chilly response from the judge — paired with an order for a psychologist — Tragos reminded her Monday that the court had appointed a psychologist to conduct a "psychiatric exam" last February.

"The defendant is under the influence of medication which is the purview of a medical doctor, i.e., psychiatrist," Tragos wrote.

Scriven allowed the delay, and then U.S. Magistrate Judge Anthony Porcelli, who had ruled Osmakac competent in March, appointed a psychiatrist Tuesday, ordering the U.S. Attorney's Office to pay the bill. Tragos had said the Osmakac family would need two months to raise money.

Recent weeks have brought a flurry of court filings in a case marked by government secrecy. Scriven and attorneys gathered Sept. 30 to discuss defense objections to special measures to protect the identity of the undercover FBI agent at the trial.

That's when the topic of courtroom decorum came up.

Usually, when a judge — more formally called "the court" — enters a federal courtroom, a U.S. Marshal calls out, "All rise." Attorneys and spectators leap to their feet. So do defendants who face years or decades in prison. Jurors get the same show of respect.

"Your honor, one more issue," defense attorney Tragos said, according to a transcript. "The defendant is — his beliefs do not allow him to stand, for when the court enters the courtroom, the jury enters the courtroom …"

They traded a few words and he asked, "Is the court agreeable to the defendant not standing?"

"That's his prerogative," Scriven replied.

Ahmed Bedier, a Tampa Bay area activist who is often a voice for issues affecting Muslim and Arab Americans, said Osmakac is "no religious authority."

"Whatever personal beliefs he's invoking are his own and they have no basis in the faith," Bedier said.

Staff writer Patty Ryan can be reached at pryan@tampabay.com or (813) 226-3382.

Osmakac terrorism trial delayed over competency question 10/08/13 [Last modified: Tuesday, October 8, 2013 10:27pm]
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