"It is now 10 minutes after 11 on June 9, 1977. About this time three months ago today, 12 men began, our evidence will show, the offense of conspiracy."
Thus did Assistant U.S. Attorney Mark H. Tuohey III begin to outline the government's case yesterday against 12 Hanafi Muslims charged with murder, armed kidnapping and related offenses in one of the most highly publicized crimes in the city's history.
Addressing the 12 jurors and 12 alternates ina tense and heavily guarded courtroom in D.C. Superior Court, Tuohey said the government would prove that the defendants had used "rifles, shotguns, pistols, knives, swords and other devices to inflict pain" to take 149 hostages at three Washington buildings last March 9 and hold them for the following 39 hours.
Seven Hanafis had "over 9,000 rounds of ammunition" when they took over the international headquarters of B'nai B'rith at 1640 Rhode Island Ave NW, Tuohey said. They unloaded the armaments from a U-Haul truck, the prosecutor said.
At the Islamic Center at 2551 Massachusetts Ave. NW, three heavily armed Hanafis forced their way in and took 11 hostages, the prosecutor charged.
At the District Building at 14th and E Streets NW, two Hanafis took hostages, he said. When two special police officers approached the fifth floor office where the prisoners were being held, Abdul Muzikir, also known as Marquette Anthony Hall, 22, whirled and fired a shotgun loaded with "double-O buckshot," Tuohey said.
He said the blast killed Maurice Williams, 24, a reporter for radio station WHUR, wounded D.C. City Council member Marion S. Barry, and also wounded special police officer Mack W. Cantrell.
The purpose of the conspiracy, Tuohey said, was to compel officials to turn over to Hamaas Abdul Khaalis, 55, acknowledged leader of the defendants, the persons convicted of murdering seven members of his family at their home at 7700 16th St. NW in January, 1973.
Sgt. Albert M. Skoloda of the metropolitan police, one of the government's first witnesses, testified that he had started up a stairwell at B'nai B'rith headquarters and then retreated when two shots were fired at him.
Skoloda said he engaged in a dialogue with a man on the second-floor landing of the stairwell who identified himself as "Khalifa Hamaas Abdul Khaalis." He quoted Khaalis as saying he would kill his captives and roll their heads down the stairs unless his demands were met.
"He said Washington had never seen as much blood as would flow," Skoloda said. "He said no one cared about the bloodshed when his babies were killed at 16th Street."
Khaalis and the other defendants sat expressionless throughout the testimony.
Tuohey's presentation of the government's case was the centerpiece of a day that included new requests from 11 Hanafis that their court-appointed attorneys be fired on the grounds that the lawyers did not understand the Hanafis' religious beliefs.
One defendant said through his attorney that he wished to be represented by Allah and another said he wished to represent himself.
Judge Nicholas S. Nunzio denied all requests that the defense counsel be replaced and ordered the attorneys to stay in the case even though their clients said they would not cooperate with them.
Nunzio also warned Harry T. Alexander, a former Superior Court judge who is now the personally retained defense counsel of Khaalis, that he would cite Alexander for contempt of court if he refused to obey the rules of the court.
The warning capped a series of disputes between Nunzio and Alexander that have marked previous phases of the case, the trial of which began May 31 with argument of pretrial motions and a jury-selection process that was not completed until last Monday.
The warning came after Alexander lose to present a motion to dismiss the 32-count indictment and to ask that Khaalis be released without money bond. Alexander contended, as he had on previous occasions, that his client was entitled to a trial beginning May 31 under the law under which has been incarcerated in the D.C. jail, and that the trial could not begin until after the jury had been sworn in.
Nunzio ruled previously that the trial began May 31, and not when the jury was sworn in some time later.
Yesterday, he told Alexander to file the motion and that he would take it under advisement.
"Will you allow me to represent my client?" Alexander asked. "WIll you allow me to advocate under the Sixth Amendment (of the U.S. Consittution)?"
"For the third time, I'm asking you to take your seat," Nunzio said.
"This motion is filed, Your Honor," said Alexander. At this point, Nunzio interrupted and called at counsel to the bench for a conference.
"This is your warning," Nunzio said into an open microphone. "If this continues," he said to Alexander, "if it happens again, you will be in contempt. I am giving you notice, sir, that you are in contempt if this happens again. Take your seats. No comment, sir."
The jury was not in the courtroom at the time of the exchange. The lawyers returned to their seats and the trial resumed.
The scene in the crowded courtroom frequently became confused with defense and prosecution attorneys rising to make objections. Many of the objections were raised during testimony out of the presence of the jury on technical matters concerning the identification of witnesses. The witnesses questioned on these points were Rabbi Samuel Fishman, a hostage at B'nai B'rith, and James Pulley, who is employed as a guard there.
Toward the end of the day, the tension was lessened by a burst of laughter in the courtroom. Alexander and other defense attorneys objected to the fact that prosecutor Tuohey was nodding in agreement when Nunzio ruled in his favor and in favor of Assistant U.S. Attorney Martin J. Linsky, coprosecutor.
"I suppose the government will object because Mr. (Stephen J.) O'Brien (counsel for Abdul Al Qawee, 22, also known as Samuel Young) is shaking his head every time I rule against him," Nunzio said.
"I've been motionless since the last time I spoke to you, your honor," O'Brien said.
"That wasn't too long ago, Nunzio replied as titters rippled among the spectators. Those in court included eight veiled Hanafi women and Abdul Aziz, Khaalis's son-in-law.
The session bean with Nunzio denying a defense motion to suppress certain wiretap evidence taken during the sieges. As the proceedings reached the opening-argument stage, all 12 defense counsel said they would reserve their statements until the government had completed its case. The trial is expected to take up to 10 weeks.
There was no hint of what form the defense would take. When prosecutor Linsky noted that Khaalis' wife and son-in-law, two potential defense witnesses, were in the courtroom, Alexander promptly said he would call neither to the stand. Linsky mentioned the matter because of the court rule that witnesses cannot be present during the testimony of other witnesses.