Monday, April 23, 2018
Public safety

Conviction rate high in terrorism cases, even when informer used

TAMPA — An informer who led the FBI to a Pinellas Park terror suspect got paid to do so.

Along the way, the informer introduced the suspect to someone who seemed to have access to explosives: an undercover FBI agent.

The informer's and agent's prominent roles might trigger questions about the arrest Saturday of Sami Osmakac, 25, but they likely won't hurt the government's case, an expert says.

About 90 percent of federal terrorism cases result in a conviction, either through a plea deal or a trial, said Karen J. Greenberg, director of the Center on National Security at Fordham Law School in New York.

"You don't see acquittals," she said.

The center has tracked hundreds of terrorism-related arrests since the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks but logged only nine acquittals, 13 complete dismissals and five vacated guilty verdicts.

And in the middle of the past decade, researchers saw an upswing in the use of informers, without a compromise in conviction rates.

An informer's presence has become commonplace as law enforcement agencies attempt to identify and neutralize lone wolves.

Informers have been used in 134 of 343 terrorism or national security cases since that September day, according to Susan Quatrone, assistant director of the center at Fordham Law.

About a third of the cases are not yet resolved.

But prosecutions relying on informers have not wilted in the courts. An extreme example:

In 14 stings, the informers or undercover officers played a primary role in the plot and were involved from — or near — the outset, the research shows.

Eight of the 14 were convicted at trial, three took plea deals and one, Wrigley Field bomb suspect Sami Hassoun, is expected to plead guilty. Two cases have not yet played out.

That conviction rate, so far: 100 percent.

The rate for all terrorism cases with an informer: 91 percent.

The rate for terrorism cases, period: 87 percent.

"The message is to take a plea," Greenberg said.

Overall, in cases with informers, more people have taken plea deals than have gone to trial.

Among the 40 informer cases that have gone to trial, 10 defendants argued entrapment.

None was successful.

Those cases all related to claims of entrapment by informers, and not undercover officers, the center's research shows.

Greenberg, an expert on civil liberties, read the federal complaint against Osmakac on Tuesday.

She noted that such cases often rely too heavily on the work of informers, who stand to gain financially or legally by helping authorities make a case.

She considered the role of the undercover FBI agent, whose conversations with Osmakac were secretly recorded, to be a somewhat positive sign.

"It's sobering to see an undercover," she said, "but I still think there's a lot here you're going to need to hear on the tape.

"There's enough doubt in my mind, having studied so many of these cases. You have to hear the tapes in court."

News researcher John Martin contributed to this report. Patty Ryan can be reached at (813) 226-3382.

Comments
Waffle House suspect still being sought; residents on alert

Waffle House suspect still being sought; residents on alert

NASHVILLE, Tenn. — As an intensive manhunt continues for the suspect in a Waffle House restaurant shooting that killed four people, police are warning residents of a Nashville neighborhood to beware of the alleged killer. More than 80 Nashville polic...
Updated: 12 minutes ago
Waffle House customer on why he rushed shooter: ‘He was going to have to work to kill me’

Waffle House customer on why he rushed shooter: ‘He was going to have to work to kill me’

Moments before the first shot, James Shaw Jr. was watching a Waffle House employee wash dishes, stacking them higher and higher. When the first shot was fired, Shaw thought the tower of plates had come crashing down, he would later recount at a news ...
Updated: 25 minutes ago
Deputies: St. Petersburg man on LSD knocks out teen girl at RaceTrac while her parent pumps gas

Deputies: St. Petersburg man on LSD knocks out teen girl at RaceTrac while her parent pumps gas

ST. PETERSBURG — A man punched a 13-year-old girl inside a RaceTrac convenience store Saturday, knocking her unconscious as her parent pumped gas outside, Pinellas deputies reported. Kolbe Wayne Smith, 27, of St. Petersburg now faces charges o...
Updated: 1 hour ago
4 dead in Nashville Waffle House shooting; suspect sought

4 dead in Nashville Waffle House shooting; suspect sought

NASHVILLE, Tenn. — A nearly naked gunman wearing only a green jacket and brandishing an assault rifle stormed a Waffle House restaurant in Nashville early Sunday, shooting four people to death before a customer rushed him and wrestled the weapo...
Published: 04/22/18
Tampa Police investigating fatal hit-and-run on Selmon Expressway

Tampa Police investigating fatal hit-and-run on Selmon Expressway

TAMPA — Police say a person is dead after a hit-and-run crash Sunday on the Selmon Expressway.Someone called authorities about 10 a.m., reporting a person on the entrance ramp to the highway near the intersection of W Cleveland Street and S Willow Av...
Published: 04/22/18
Teen killed in crash remembered as

Teen killed in crash remembered as "always smiling and laughing"

WEEKI WACHEE — Seth Leathers was on his way to play basketball at his church when he was killed Wednesday in a car crash on U.S. 19 in Spring Hill, according to family friend Laurie Pike.Leathers, 16, was the passenger in a car driven by his friend G...
Published: 04/22/18
New Port Richey doctor dies in single-car crash on SR 580

New Port Richey doctor dies in single-car crash on SR 580

A 49-year-old doctor died early Saturday in a single-car crash on State Road 580.Kristin Carlin, of New Port Richey, was driving in the eastbound lanes of SR 580 shortly before 6 a.m. when she failed to round a curve and veered off the road near Char...
Published: 04/21/18
Updated: 04/22/18
Man with multiple gun arrests now accused of fatally shooting Durant High football player

Man with multiple gun arrests now accused of fatally shooting Durant High football player

The first time deputies arrested Samuel Morrissey Jr., he faced charges of possession of marijuana and carrying a concealed firearm. He plead no contest in September, and the judge gave him a break by withholding adjudication. Ten days later, the 20-...
Published: 04/21/18
Man who attacked woman and stole her shorts arrested, deputies say

Man who attacked woman and stole her shorts arrested, deputies say

Deputies arrested a man they said tackled a woman in February and removed her shorts before fleeing.Robert Mark Hembree Jr., 31, was arrested late Friday. He faces charges of sexual battery and petit theft.PREVIOUS COVERAGE: Detectives seek man who a...
Published: 04/21/18
Dade City man killed in early morning hit-and-run, police say

Dade City man killed in early morning hit-and-run, police say

A Pasco County man was struck and killed in an apparent hit-and-run early Saturday, police said.Thomas Michael Burdeshaw, 53, who lived on Sundance Drive in Dade City, was hit about 1:45 a.m. on the 36000 block of Blanton Road, police said.Witnesses ...
Published: 04/21/18