For the defense attorneys in the Hanafi Muslim murder-kidnap trial, the greatest single problem in the case is the utter refusal of their clients to do anything to defend themselves against the government's charges.
Instead, according to persons familiar with their thinking, the defendants are determined to share the guilt for crimes they may not have committed as a gestured of loyalty to their leader and belief in their faith.
This loyalty, this willingness to commit perjury, has been a problem for their attorneys since the trial began in the D.C. Superior Court on May 31. It is expected to become particularly acute on Monday, when the defense begins its case.
"They are willing to go down the tube for a principle," says one defense attorney.
The defendants are Hanafi leader Hamaas Abdul Khaalis and 11 other followers. They are charged with murder, armed kidnaping, conspiracy and related offenses arising from the takeover from March 9 to March 11 of the District Building, the International headquarters of B'nai B'rith, a Jewish service organization, and the Islamic Center.
Abdul Rahim, 26, also known as Phillip A. Young, would admit to committing a murder at the District Building even though he was at the Islamic Center, to prove his loyalty to Khaalis, according to persons familiar with his thinking.
For the same reasons, Abdul Razzaaq, 23, also known as Nelson McQueen Jr. and as Norman Lee, would admit to planning the same murder, although he once said he did not hear about it until it had been done, other sources say, Razzaaq was at the B'nai B'rith building during the takeovers.
Several of the attorneys - there are 12 of them, 11 of whom were appointed by the court - have been told by their clients that they would be visited by "pestilence" and that they and their families would "suffer" if anything is done to try to isolate any defendant from the crimes with which all are charged.
But neither the wishes of the Hanafis nor the threats they reportedly have made relieve the laywers of their duty to provide what they think is the best defense possible.
The lawyers are keenly aware of this. Some have consulted Fred Grabowski, the counsel of the D.C. Bar, to find out what the code of ethics has to say about the following question: What are a lawyer's rights and duties in a criminal case in which his client wants to shut off certain defenses?
What the canons say in general, according to the lawyers, is that the defendant has entire control over such decisions as whether to plead guilty or not quilty, or not guilty by reason of insanity. The defendant also has the right to decide whether or not to testify.
Lawyers, on the other hand, can make up their own minds on such tactical questions as the direction that a cross-examination should take. They can put on certain evidence regardless of their clients' views.
What the attorneys say they plan to do on Monday is their utmost - within these strictures - to prove that the sole murder in the case, and the events immediately surrounding it, were no part of the conspiracy with which all 12 Hanafis are charged.
The plan, in effect, to shear off one-third of the indictment and let the remainder stand. They do not seriously dispute the remainder of the charges because of the weight of the government's evidence. In theory, this would save at least 10 of the 12 defendants from conviction of murder.
The prosecution, which finished presenting its case on Friday, has charged all 12 Hanafis with conspiracy. Its alleged purpose was to force officials to turn over the Hanafis five Black Muslims convicted of murdering seven members of the family of Hanafi leader Khaalis, in January, 1973.
Khaalis said at the time of the wieges that he wished to wreak vengeance on the Black Muslims in the name of Allah.
The mechanism of the alleged conspiracy was the taking of hostages at the buildings where the sieges occurred.
In all, 149 hostages were seized and threatened with death unless Khaalis's demands were met. Several persons were injured and one was killed. He was Maurice Williams, a 24-year-old radio reporter who was cut down by a blast shotgun fire in the opening moments of the events at the District Building.
The government has charged Abdul Muzikir, 22, also known as Marquette Anthony Hall, with the murder of William. The only other Hanafi who was present at the District Building was Abdul Nuh, 28, also known as Mark E. Gibson.
The government has charged all 12 defendants with the murder of Williams under two theories. One is conspiracy, which is an agreement to do an illegal act. All members of a conspiracy are equally responsible, in the eyes of the law, for any act done to pursue the ends of the conspiracy.
The second theory is that of felony murder. This holds that all persons engaged in a criminal enterprise are guilty of any murder that occurs during that enterprise. Felony murder carries a mandatory penalty of 20 years to life in prison.
The defense attorneys plan to argue that Abdul Muzikir and Abdul Nuh went into the District Building on their own after hearing about the takeovers at the B'nai B'rith building and at the Islamic Center. Having learned about the District Building takeover, Khaalis then "coopted" it into his plans, according to the defense attorneys.
To support this theory they plan to cite the fact that some hours passed before Khaalis, who was at B'nai B'rith headquarters, made telephone contact with Muzikir and Nuh.