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USF graduate from Morocco convicted in gun case

TAMPA — Karim Moussaoui called it "a Kodak moment," 2 1/2 minutes posing with a rifle at a gun range.

Prosecutors called it a crime, a violation of his student visa. Now those 2 1/2 minutes could cost the 28-year-old University of South Florida graduate as much as 33 months in federal prison.

A jury convicted him of the charge on Wednesday, and he's scheduled to be sentenced July 14.

"We're very disappointed, of course, in the verdict, but I thought they were thoughtful and returned a verdict that was just," said defense attorney Deeann Athan.

U.S. District Judge James Whittemore revoked Moussaoui's bail and ordered him into immediate custody. The judge said he had concerns that Moussaoui posed a flight risk.

Moussaoui graduated from USF in December, has no ties to the area and planned to return to Morocco and work for his father.

Moussaoui had been free on a $50,000 signature bond pledged by his parents since his arrest Dec. 13.

"The ante needs to be upped to satisfy me that the burden of violating outweighs him not showing up," Whittemore said.

Athan said she's considering an appeal and will work on a bail motion with new conditions of release to satisfy the judge.

Prosecutors relied upon two pieces of key evidence during the three-day trial to prove their case. They used surveillance footage from the Shoot Straight gun range on July 19 that showed Moussaoui positioning a rented Walther G22 rifle on his shoulder and pointing it down range three times. Jurors also saw a photograph of Moussaoui holding the rifle and smiling for a camera.

Federal investigators recovered the picture after searching the home computer of Youssef Megahed, 22, a suspended USF student who is scheduled for trial April 28 on an explosives charge. Megahed, an Egyptian national, is a legal resident and had a membership to the gun range.

Moussaoui said he had never been inside a gun shop and asked to tag along.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Robert Monk attempted at trial to show a more extensive relationship between Moussaoui and Megahed, who was arrested Aug. 4 in Goose Creek, S.C., along with Ahmed Mohamed, 26.

Megahed and Mohamed have been charged with illegally transporting explosive materials.

A South Carolina deputy stopped Megahed and Mohamed for speeding and searched their car when he became suspicious. The men said they were traveling with homemade fireworks.

Moussaoui said Megahed had invited him to go on that trip, but he declined.

He had made other plans to visit New York City, he said. When Moussaoui took the witness stand in his own behalf, Monk questioned him repeatedly about Megahed's trip to South Carolina, but the defendant had few answers, except to say he didn't want to go.

Athan reminded jurors during closing statements that Moussaoui's case had nothing to do with the explosives charges against the other two men.

Gun range member Bobby Robinson testified that he heard Moussaoui fire the rifle as he approached a shooting stall next to him.

When Moussaoui took the witness stand, he said Robinson was either mistaken or had lied. He said the rifle had no bullets, because he insisted that Megahed empty the ammunition.

During a bail hearing after the verdict, Monk asked Moussaoui's father, Hamou Moussaoui, if he thought his son had been "unjustly convicted."

"The verdict has been announced and justice is straight," Hamou Moussaoui answered through a French interpreter. "I don't see that as an injustice. No. It wasn't unjust."

Athan tried to dissect the meaning of "possession'' at trial, and call on jurors to use their common sense in determining its meaning. She argued that Karim Moussaoui never controlled the firearm, which was under the constant watch of a gun range officer.

Jurors deliberated for a little more than two hours before reaching a guilty verdict.

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

USF graduate from Morocco convicted in gun case 04/02/08 [Last modified: Friday, April 4, 2008 10:29am]

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