In a court session marked by sharp exchanges between Judge Nicholas S. Nunzio and former Judge Harry T. Alexander, 11 Hanafi Muslims declared through their attorneys that their leader and codefendant, Hamaas Abdul Khaalis, is being held in jail illegally and that they themselves do not expect justice.
The sometimes stormy hearing, which included a rare appearance by U.S. Attorney Earl J. Silbert on the witness stand, began and ended with requests by the 11 court-appointed defense counsels in the case that they be relieved of their duties in accordance with their clients' wishes.
Alexander, a former D.C. Superior Court judge who has been privately retained to represent Khaalis, moved for a dismissal of the 32-count indictment on the grounds that none of the other 11 defendants was being "properly represented."
Judge Nunzio denied the motion. He also denied all motions from other defense counsel that they be replaced.
"(The defendants) have hired and fired you through the past three weeks," Nunzio said. "You will stay in the case. You will stay as attorney-advisers if your clients want to represent themselves and your clients will be examined to see if they are competent to represent themselves if they wish to do so."
Silbert testified in connection with the government's opposition to a defense motion to suppress certain wire-tap evidence. The taps were installed last March 9 shortly after the 12 Hanafis allegedly took 149 hostages at three Washington buildings and held 139 of them until March 11. One person was killed during the sieges and several others were injured.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Martin J. Linsky, one of the two prosecutors in the case, had just begun questioning Silbert about the legal procedures he followed in ordering the wiretaps installed when Stephen J. O'Brien, the defense attorney for Abdul Qawee, also known as Samuel Young, 22, objected.
Alexander joined the objection.
"Young man, please sit down," Nunzio otld O'Brien.
"You may not call him 'young man,'" Alexander told the judge. "You must call him 'mister.'"
"I suggest that you approach the decorum you demanded in your own courtroom and abide by the rules of the court," Nunzio said.
"I will afford you a few minutes to relax, sir," Nunzio continued. "You seem to be jumping up and down. We'll stand in recess for a few minutes."
Whereupon Nunzio left the bench.
At another point, Nunzio told Alexander not to "orate" when making objections, but merely to state his reasons.
"You didn't give me a chance," Alexander said.
"Yes I did, sir, but the words were long in coming," Nunzio said.
The exchanges between the judge and the former judge were the most acrimonious since the trial began May 31. A jury of four men and eight women - all of them black, and 12 alternates, five men, four of whom are black , and seven women, all of whom are black - were sworn in Monday. The hurors and alternates are sequestered at an undisclosed location under guard and will remain so until the end of the trial, which is expected to take up to 10 weeks.
The expressed feeling of 11 of the defendants that their leader, the 55-year-old Khaalis, is being kept in jail illegally turns on the fact that the jury was not sworn in until Monday.
As stated by Alexander and other attorneys, the argument for illegal treatment is based on these circumstances:
As part of the agreement that ended the sieges March 11, Khaalis was released without money bond. The other defendants subsequently were jailed in lieu of bonds ranging from $50,000 to $75,000.
On March 31, Khaalis was jailed on the grounds that he allegedly committed another offense. Since he had not been convicted for any offense at the time he was jailed, he was entitled under the law to a trial within 60 days. The 60th day was May 31, the day Nunzio convened court for the trial.
Alexander has asserted on previous occasions that Khaalis' trial could not begin until the jury was sworn in. He also has asserted that Khaalis was under "house arrest" during the sieges because there was "enough artillery (in the hands of police to restrict his locomotion" and that he was entitled to legal counsel during the negotiations that resulted in the freeing of the hostages.
In making their support for this position known yesterday, Khaalis's codefendants engaged in one of their leader. On Monday, there were fears that they might demonstrate before the jury, but nothing occured.
Judge Nunzio ruled that the trial started May 31, not with the swearing in of the jury. He said he would rule on the wiretap motion Thursday, when the trial resumes. The government then is expected to make its opening statement.