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Jury deliberating Youssef Megahed's fate

Samir Megahed, left, father of former University of South Florida student Youssef Megahed, center, and brother Yahia Megahed leave the federal courthouse Tuesday in Tampa.

WILLIE J. ALLEN JR. | Times

Samir Megahed, left, father of former University of South Florida student Youssef Megahed, center, and brother Yahia Megahed leave the federal courthouse Tuesday in Tampa.

TAMPA — After nearly 21/2 weeks, 36 witnesses and more than 100 pieces of evidence, the fate of Youssef Megahed is in the hands of a federal jury.

Twelve jurors deliberated for more than two hours Tuesday before they broke for the day. Earlier, they heard two starkly different closing statements.

Megahed's defense attorney tried to humanize his client as a good kid who lived at home, aspired to follow his father as an engineer and didn't know what was in the trunk of the car he was riding in when he was arrested Aug. 4, 2007, after a traffic stop in South Carolina.

A prosecutor took a more clinical route, going point by point over why the government is convinced Megahed knew exactly what the car carried.

Megahed, now 23, and University of South Florida classmate Ahmed Mohamed were arrested after authorities found PVC pipes stuffed with a potassium nitrate-sugar mixture in the trunk.

Mohamed pleaded guilty in December to providing material support to terrorists and was sentenced to 15 years in prison. A YouTube video showed him demonstrating how to turn a remote-controlled toy into a detonator.

Megahed is accused of the illegal transportation of explosive materials and a destructive device.

"This argument of mine is not going to be dramatic," Assistant U.S. Attorney Robert Monk told the jurors Tuesday. He said that he had combed through federal definitions of "explosives," and that the 20-feet of safety fuse and pipe mixture found in the car trunk fit the bill.

"These were clearly explosive materials," he said, noting that neither Megahed nor Mohamed had a license to carry them across state lines.

Megahed has said he had no idea what was in the trunk and was just on vacation. But Monk wondered why the pair would stop at four Wal-Marts along the way and purchase items such as a drill, glue remover, gun patch, rifle kit, solvent and a rifle rod.

"They made a point to not purchase all those items at the same Wal-Mart stores," he said.

He said Megahed's fingerprints were found on the boxes of their purchases as well as on a gas can. They were all in the trunk, Monk said, proving he must have noticed the PVC pipes there.

Assistant federal public defender Adam Allen said the duo hit Wal-Marts because they were broke and had several gift cards. Megahed was in a rifle club, which he said explained some of the purchases. The gas can was in the trunk because Mohamed had run out of gas on a trip to Key West not long ago.

Megahed's fingerprints weren't found on the PVC pipes, he said. And experts who testified couldn't come to a conclusion as to the danger posed by the potassium nitrate mixture. The evidence, Allen said, showed the pipes were not pipe bombs, explosives or destructive devices.

"Their own witness: It is a pyrotechnic, similar to a road flare or firework," Allen said.

He said the FBI and prosecutors used assumptions to fill in blanks and lead jurors to a conclusion other than what was really going on — "an innocent weekend college road trip," he said.

During deliberations Tuesday, jurors made two requests, receiving a list of all the trial evidence and a laptop to view some of it.

Jury deliberating Youssef Megahed's fate 03/31/09 [Last modified: Wednesday, April 1, 2009 12:16am]
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