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Suspended student may get two trials

TAMPA — A federal judge is considering a separate trial for Ahmed Mohamed on a charge that he demonstrated on YouTube how to make an explosive device with a child's toy.

An Aug. 29 federal indictment charged Mohamed, 26, and Youssef Megahed, 21, with illegally transporting explosive materials. The same indictment charged Mohamed with one count of demonstrating how to make an explosive.

Assistant Federal Public Defender Adam Allen, Megahed's attorney, said Wednesday in court that Megahed knew nothing about the video, so allowing testimony about it during a trial with Mohamed, a fellow suspended University of South Florida student, would prejudice Megahed's case.

Allen said a jury might find Megahed guilty on the charge of transporting explosive materials because of his association with Mohamed.

Allen had previously filed a motion for separate trials. U.S. District Judge Steven Merryday denied that request in November. Allen appealed the judge's ruling and Merryday held a hearing Wednesday to listen to Allen's arguments.

Linda Moreno, Mohamed's attorney, offered no opinion on Allen's motion. Merryday has not made a decision.

Merryday said Megahed and Mohamed are properly joined in the indictment on the charge for illegally transporting explosives, and he supports his ruling that they are to stand trial together on that allegation on April 28.

Also at the hearing, Allen asked Merryday again to release Megahed on bail. Allen said in court records filed Jan. 30 that an FBI analysis found that PVC pipes carried by Megahed and Mohamed at the time of their Aug. 4 arrest in Goose Creek, S.C., were harmless fireworks and not explosives.

While some of what the men carried — the items include safety fuses and PVC pipes stuffed with sugar, potassium nitrate and cat litter — meets the federal definition for explosive, Allen said the FBI report proved the materials would not explode.

FBI analysts constructed hypothetical replicas of the alleged explosives, trying to match the mixtures used by Mohamed, who prepared the PVC pipes. When ignited, some of the mixtures did nothing at all, some produced smoke and some produced smoke and gas, Allen said.

Merryday said he will review the FBI report to determine whether the compounds carried in the trunk by Megahed and Mohamed posed a threat, or enough of a threat, to keep Megahed jailed until trial.

The judge also acknowledged a defense request for a jury questionnaire to which he has yet to respond.

Merryday said he would issue rulings on the three matters — a separate trial for Mohamed on the demonstration charge, granting bail for Megahed and allowing a jury questionnaire — within 48 hours.

At an earlier hearing on Wednesday before U.S. District Judge James Whittemore, the trial for a third man connected to Megahed and Mohamed was postponed until March 31.

USF graduate Karim Moussaoui, 28, was indicted Jan. 10 on a charge of violating his student visa by posing for a photograph at a gun range with a firearm in his hand. Federal law bans people with student visas from possessing firearms.

Federal investigators found the picture of Moussaoui on a computer seized from Megahed's home. Moussaoui was scheduled to go to trial Monday. Whittemore granted a continuance to accommodate Moussaoui's attorney, Deeann Athan, who has a family medical emergency.

Stephen Crawford previously represented Moussaoui, but Athan said in court that Moussaoui hired her in February after a disagreement with Crawford.

Athan said Crawford talked to Jay Hoffer, the prosecutor, about a plea deal for Moussaoui without Moussaoui's knowledge. Crawford offered a guilty plea in exchange for probation or deportation, reported Athan.

Crawford declined to comment on the courtroom discussion.

Moussaoui said it has always been his intention to fight the charge in court and "take it to justice."

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

Suspended student may get two trials 03/06/08 [Last modified: Thursday, March 6, 2008 12:34am]
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