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Judge's evidence ban in Megahed trial goes to appeal panel

JACKSONVILLE — Federal prosecutors will soon learn whether a U.S. district judge overstepped his bounds in excluding evidence they planned to use during the explosives trial for former University of South Florida student Youssef Megahed.

It's unclear when the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals will rule, but a three-judge panel heard arguments about the case in Jacksonville Wednesday.

Prosecutors want the appellate court to reverse U.S. District Judge Steven D. Merryday's ruling prohibiting them from showing jurors nine video clips taken from Megahed's home computer. The clips, each 20 seconds or less, show rockets launching in combat zones in the Middle East and explosive devices being used against U.S. military vehicles.

In court Wednesday, Assistant U.S. Attorney David Rhodes called the clips "possibly crucial" to the government's case against Megahed, who is charged with illegally transporting explosive materials and a destructive device.

Rhodes called Merryday's actions an abuse of discretion.

Merryday excluded the clips to sanction the government for disclosing them to the defense after a deadline.

U.S. Circuit Judge Charles R. Wilson said the law gives vast discretion to district judges on admitting evidence for trial.

"I'm not convinced yet that there is an abuse of discretion," Wilson said.

Megahed and fellow student Ahmed Mohamed were arrested Aug. 4, 2007, after a deputy stopped them for speeding in Goose Creek, S.C., and found explosive materials in their trunk.

Mohamed pleaded guilty to providing material support to terrorists after an FBI investigation revealed he had posted a YouTube video showing how to turn a remote control toy into a detonator. He is serving a maximum 15-year prison term.

In excluding the Megahed computer clips, Merryday said they were similar to a 40-minute video prosecutors want to use at trial. That video, which prosecutors believe Megahed had viewed shortly before his arrest, was on Mohamed's laptop.

Merryday indicated that he might not allow that video at trial either, but said prosecutors could argue for its admission later.

Judge's evidence ban in Megahed trial goes to appeal panel 01/14/09 [Last modified: Wednesday, January 14, 2009 9:41pm]
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