"I do not pretend that he should be excused from what happened at the B'nai B'rith," said John Treanor, "but I can argue that a convicted murderer he should not be."
For 50 minutes yesterday, Treanor, a former presecutor, developed this argument on behalf of his client, Abdul Razzaaq, 23, also known as Nelson McQueen Jr. and as Norman Lee, Razzaaq is one of 12 Hanafi Muslims on trial in D.C. Superior Court on charges of murder, kidnaping, conspiracy and related offenses in the seizure of three Washington buildings last March.
one of those buildings was the international headquarters of B'nai B'rith, the Jewish service organization, at 1648 Rhode Island Ave. NW. Razzaaq is one of seven Hanafis accused of taking more than 100 hostages there. When the siege ended after 39 hours, he came out of the building, like the others, with his hands up.
Treanor was making his final argument to the jury of two men and 10 women. He discussed religion, he discussed the nature of criminal trials in the United State, he discussed the Civil War, and he discussed the law. But always he came back to his contention that while his client may not be innocent of all crime, he is not a murderer.
His performance was regarded by court personnel as one of the high points of the trial, now in its eighth week. Assistant U.S. Attorney Mark H Tuohey III, one of the two prosecutors, congratulated him. Several defense attorneys congratulated him. Several defense attorneys congratulated him.
Some of the Hanafis also congratulated him. This was virtually unprecedented, because the defense attorneys in the case say that their greatest single problem in the trial has been the flat refusal of their clients to help defend themselves against the government's charges.
"I want to thank you," said Hamaas Abdul Khaalis, 55, alleged leader of the takeovers, as Treanor returned to his seat at the defense table. At least three other defendants also offered thanks.
But as soon as the jury had left the courtroom for a recess called by Judge Nicholas S. Nunzio at the close of Treanor's argument, Harry T. Alexander, the former Superior Court judge whom Khaalis hired to defend him, rose to object.
"Mr. Treanor has made concessions," said Alexander. "He has conceded the commission of crimes. I do not concede anything."
Alexander, who completed his own closing argument Monday, asked that he be permitted to rebut Treanor.
"Sit down, sir," said Nunzio. "Mr. Treanor has just made one of the finest arguments I've ever heard."
The judge refused Alexander's request for a rebuttal and added, his voice rising in anger, "Mr. Treanor is to be commended for one of the finest arguments ever heard in this courtroom."
The heart of Treanor's argument was that Razzaaq did not kill anyone, that there was no evidence that he ever harmed anyone, and that he should not be held responsible for what happened at the other buildings that were seized.
These were the Islamic Center at 2551 Massachusetts Ave. NW, in the heart of "Embassy Row," and the District Building at 14th and E Streets NW.
At the District Building, Maurice Williams, a 24-year-old radio reporter, was killed by a shotgun blast. Although several of the 149 hostages taken at the three buildings were injured, Williams was the only one to die.
Since the government has charged all 12 Hanafis with conspiracy in the takeovers, all 12 also are charged with the murder of Williams, although only two are accused of having taken a direct part in the events at the District Building.
This is because of the legal principle that states that all parties to a conspiracy, which is an agreement to do an illegal act, are equally responsible for all things done to promote the ends of the conspiracy.
The government charges that the purpose of the conspiracy in this case was to take hostages. The hostages were to be held until officials turned over to the Hanafis five Black Muslims convicted of murdering seven members of the family of Hamaas Abdul Khaalis in 1973, it was contended. A second demand was that the film "Mohammad, Messenger of God" be removed from this country on the grounds that the Hanafis regarded it as sacreligious, the jury was told.
"I would be foolish, I would be laughed at, if I denied that my client was in the B'nai B'rith," Treanor said in the nasal accents of his native Massachusetts. "He had to know, when he went into the B'nai B'rith, that the law of the land was about - by him - to be broken."
Having said that, he attacked the government's conspiracy theory. For if the jury does not accept the government's conspiracy theory, then the murder charges against those not directly involved in the killing of Williams will fail.
Like other defense attorneys in the case, Treanor argued that the seizure of the District Building was the work of two defendants acting on their own. He said Khaalis later "claimed ownership, if you will," of the takeover because the two men allegedly incolved were among his followers.
He noted that Khaalis, who was arrested at the B'nai B'rith headquarters, had the telephone number of three Islamic Center with him, but not that of the District Building.
From this and other evidence, he said, the jury could entertain a "resonable doubt" tht the District Buiding events were part of any plan.
Stephen J. O'Brien, attorney for Abdul Al Qawee, 22, also known as Samuel Young; Dennis O'Keefe, attorney for Abdul Rahim, 26, also known as Phillip Young, and Christopher Hoge, attorney for Abdul Rahman, 38, also known as Clyde Young, made similar arguments.