The evidentiary phase of the trial of 12 Hanafi Muslims on charges of murder and kidnaping ended yesterday with a reminder from the judge that while a trial "is a search for truth," it is a search that must follow "the rules of evidence."
So saying, Judge Nicholas S.Nunzio of D.C. Superior court refused to allow prosecutors to play for the jury a recorded telephone conversation that would have been their last piece of evidence."
Closing arguments in the trial, which began May 31, were scheduled to begin Monday, Nunzio told the jury that he hoped they could begin their deliberations by next Thursday or Friday.
The government wanted to put the recorded telephone conversation into evidence in an effort to disprove testimony by Hamaas Abdul Khaalis. On Tuesday he told the jury that he and his alleged followers took over three Washington buildings last March - seizing 149 hostages in the process - because each was separately following the will of Allah, and not because of a conspiracy they entered together.
By way of rebutal, prosecutors offered the recording in evidence Wednesday. They said one of the voices was that of Abdul Rahman, 38, also known as Clyde Young, one of the defendants.
On the tape, which was played out of the presence of the jury Wednesday and again yesterday, a New Jersey reporter was heard to ask who had selected the takeover targets: the international headquarters of B'nai b'rith. the Jewish service organization, at 1640 Rhode Island Ave.NW. the Islamic Center at 2551 Massachusetts Ace.NW in the heart of "Embassy Row," and the District Building.
"Our leader, in his wisdom that Allah gave him, chose the locations," a voice replied.
Christopher Hoge. Abdul Rahman's court-appointed attorney, asserted that the voice was that of Abdul Rahim, 26, also known as Phillip Young, not that of Abdul Rahman.
The argument took up most of Wednesday afternoon. By yesterday morning, the government was ready to concede that the recording should be admitted anyway on the ground that there was no dispute that both Abdul Rahman and Abdul Rahim were at the siege of the Islamic Center.
Judge Nunzio agreed.
"It appears to the court that, in order to ensure a fair trial and in order to serve the interests of justice and out of an abundance of caution, that the tape at issue should not be played before the jury," he said.
"The court's ruling is made with a firm belief based in law that the credibility issue raised on rebuttal can be resolved by the trier of the facts, that is, by the jury without further testimony on the subject of this tape."
The government wanted to play the recording as its final piece of evidence that all 12 hanafis were acting as part of a single conspiracy. It is under the conspiracy throry that all 12 defendants are charged with the murder of Maurica Williams, a 24-year-old radio reporter who was shot at the District Building.
Although several persons were injured during the takeovers, Williams was the only one to die.
Defense attorneys plan to argue that the incidents at the District Building were solely the work of the two Hanafis who went there, and that Hamaaas Abdul Khaalis "coopted" them into his plans after be heard about the action.
The government charges that the purpose of the alleged conspiracy was to force official to turn over to the Hanafis five Black Muslims convicted of murdering seven members of Khaalis's family in 1973.
Meanwhile, Khaalis said through his attorney yesterday that be "has never declared himself or anyone else to be a prophet of Allah."
Harry T. Alexander, the former Superior Court judge whom Khaalis has retained, told Judge Nunzio that Khaalis wished "to testify to that because it had been reported in a newspaper article that he claimed to be a prophet."
This was reference to an article in Sunday's Washington Post. It said that the biggest problem for most defense attorneys in the trial was the fact that their clients refused to defend themselves against the government's charges. It also said Khaalis had addressed his codefendants in the cellblock behind the courtroom at the close of last Friday's session. The article added:
"What he said could not be learned. But on a previous occasion he reminded his followers that they were Hanafis Muslims and that he himself was a prophet of God."
Khaalis testified in the murder-kidnap trial that he was the "khalifa," or leader, of the Hanafi community, but that he was not a "prophet." He said the taking of the hostages was in fulfillment of the will of Allah.