Jury Frees Florida Muslim
- Youseff Megahed, seen at right with his brother Yahia, was arrested in South Carolina in August 2007.
Megahed Not Guilty, Wants To Return To USF
By ELAINE SILVESTRINI
The Tampa Tribune
April 3, 2009
TAMPA - Nearly 20 months after he was first thrust into the national spotlight as a potential terrorist, Youssef Megahed gave a serene smile when a federal jury acquitted him this afternoon of federal explosives charges.
"I'm very happy," he said of the verdict. Asked if he was surprised, he said, "No, not really. I was expecting a not guilty. The government did not prove anything in its day in court."
The former University of South Florida student, who was one course short of attaining his degree when he and a friend were arrested in South Carolina in 2007, said he now plans to complete his studies.
"Back to USF, if they'll let him in," said one of his attorneys, public defender Dionja Dyer, "and get on with his life."
Megahed, 23, could have faced up to 20 years in federal prison if convicted of illegally transporting explosives and possession of an explosives device.
Although Megahed never explicitly faced a terrorism charge, federal prosecutors said the case was implicitly about terrorism. Codefendant Ahmed Mohamed pleaded guilty to helping terrorists and is serving 15 years in federal prison for posting on YouTube a video in which he demonstrated how to use a remote-controlled toy to detonate a bomb.
Megahed and Mohamed are both from Egypt; Megahed is a legal, permanent resident, who has been in this country with his family since he was 11; Mohamed had been here on a student visa for about six months when the pair were first arrested Aug. 4, 2007.
They were near Goose Creek, S.C., with Mohamed behind the wheel of a car owned by Megahed's brother, Yahia, when deputies pulled them over for a traffic infraction. The officers said they found pipe bombs in the trunk.
Mohamed said the 4-inch plastic pipes stuffed with a mixture of sugar and potassium nitrate were homemade fireworks. Megahed's defense said he knew nothing of the devices, which were intended to propel model rockets.
The FBI determined the items were not pipe bombs but instead were "low explosives." Prosecutors argued they could be easily modified in combination with a partially filled gasoline can and safety fuse found in the trunk - to become dangerous.
The defense maintained the two were just college buddies on a road trip to see the beaches of the Southeast. The prosecution, noting the pair were stopped about seven miles from a military base, suggested they were planning something sinister.
Jurors, who deliberated about 22 hours over four days, struggled with just how much responsibility to attribute to Megahed. Late this morning, they sent a question to the judge: "Does a guilty verdict require a finding that the defendant was a knowing and willful participant in the crime, or is a finding of knowledge that a crime was being committed sufficient?"
U.S. District Judge Steven D. Merryday, after consulting with attorneys, told the jurors that if they found Megahed was directly responsible for the offense, they need only find he acted knowingly. If he aided or abetted Mohamed, to convict him, they must find he was a knowing and willful participant.
After the verdict, Megahed's mother, Ahlam, wept. But she said she wasn't surprised. "I know my son is innocent," she said. "The jury is good. The jury is fair."
Assistant U.S. Attorney Robert Monk said, "We respect the jury's verdict when we prevail in a case. We respect the jury's verdict when we do not prevail. It's clear they deliberated and paid close attention to the evidence over several days. We respect their role and we respect their decision."
The defendant's father, Samir Megahed, who came to the three-week trial every day with his entire family, said he also was not surprised at the verdict. "I am waiting for this from the beginning," he said. "My son didn't do anything wrong."
After the verdict, Samir Megahed shook the hands of at least one of the prosecutors and an FBI agent. He later asked to meet with the judge, who came into the courtroom and shook his hand, as well. Samir then brought his son to shake the judge's hand.
"I hope he does well from here on out," Merryday said.
Outside the courthouse, Yahia Megahed, 26, said, "For two years we have been waiting for this day." Those watching this case should learn, he said, that "they shouldn't judge people just because of where they come from or their origin. They should look at the real evidence."
Yahia said his brother hopes to get his degree "and continue his life as an engineer."
USF spokeswoman Lara Wade said she couldn't comment on the likelihood Megahed, or any specific student, would be admitted to the university. She said he is not currently enrolled and would have to meet admission requirements before he could be allowed to attend USF.
Samir Megahed said the family planned to celebrate by going to the beach for a week, but not in South Carolina. Laughing, he said, "I'll never go to South Carolina again." But he hastily added he was just joking.
Asked what he thought of Mohamed, Youssef Megahed said, "I have no specific comment to make."
Public defender Adam Allen said the message of the case is, "The system works."
"At least it did for Youssef Megahed," Dyer said. "It doesn't for everybody."
Samir Megahed said he wanted to thank Allen and Dyer and "also the jury, chosen from the American people, who chose the right end for the story."
Reporter Elaine Silvestrini can be reached at (813) 259-7837.
Megahed found not guilty on both charges
Friday, April 3, 2009
HILLSBOROUGH COUNTY (Bay News 9) -- A former USF student who was accused of transporting explosives across state lines has been found not guilty on both charges.
The federal jury reached a verdict shortly before 4:30 p.m. Friday, following four days of deliberations. The jury had deliberated about 22 hours.
Earlier in the day, one of Megahed's attorneys had moved for a mistrial. Assistant Federal Public Defender Dionja Dyer said one of the jurors brought up Ahmed Mohammed's guilty plea on Thursday.
Mohammed was with Youssef Megahed in August 2007 when the pair was pulled over during a traffic stop in South Carolina.
Mohamed pleaded guilty to similar charges and is serving 15 years in jail.
His case was been barred from being mentioned during Megahed's trial.
Jurors had to consider whether Megahed, a former engineering student, had explosives in the car.
Megahed contended that the two men only had fireworks with them.
If convicted, Megahed could have received up to 20 years in prison.
Megahed found not guilty on federal explosives charges
Reported by: Dustin Chase
Contributor: Chad Cookler
4/04 8:48 pm
Former USF student Youssef Megahed speaks to reporters after being acquitted on federal charges of carrying explosives across state lines
Youssef Megahed to be released on bond
Appeals panel hears arguments in Youssef Megahed case
TAMPA, FL -- After almost four full days of deliberating, the jury in the federal trial of Youssef Megahed found him not guilty on all counts.
Youssef Samir Megahed's family teared up as the jury read its verdict Friday afternoon, finding him not guilty of carrying explosives across state lines and possessing a destructive device.
Jurors filed back into the federal courtroom in downtown Tampa late Friday afternoon, where they delivered the news.
Megahed and Ahmed Mohamed were arrested in South Carolina in August 2007 after deputies said they found explosives in the trunk of their car during a traffic stop.
The 22-year-old former USF engineering student and Mohamed said they were on an innocent college road trip to visit Carolina beaches. Defense attorneys have characterized the items in the trunk asingredients for homemade "sugar rockets," not dangerous explosives.
Prosecutors said deputies found PVC pipes, fuses, and other materials that could have been combined with gasoline to build a destructive device when the former University of South Florida student and a friend were pulled over in South Carolina in August 2007.
The attorney for Megahed had argued that the items were no more harmful than a road flare, and that his friend, Ahmed Mohamed, put the items in the car trunk without Megahed's knowledge.
The case was filled with terrorist overtones, and came nearly four months after Mohamed was sentenced to 15 years in prison for making a YouTube video showing would-be terrorists how to turn a remote-control toy into a bomb detonator. The 12-minute clip was found on a laptop computer inside the men's car.
Megahed wasn't charged in connection with the video.
The 12-member jury deliberated for about 22 hours over four days before reaching their verdict. As U.S. District Judge Steven D. Merryday read the not guilty finding, Megahed's family watched with tears and joy.
"We feel comfort and happiness for our son that we win this case," Samir Megahed, the young man's father, said.
Defense attorney Adam Allen said the case shows that the justice system works.
During the trial, Allen told jurors Megahed, 23, and his friend were on "an innocent weekend college road trip" to see East Coast beaches when they were arrested near Charleston, S.C. But prosecutor Jay Hoffer said that what deputies found in the trunk of the men's borrowed Toyota Camry made them "jump back in fear" -- four sections of PVC pipe containing a mixture of sugar, potassium nitrate, cat litter, plus fuses. He described the items as "low explosives" that were illegal to carry across state lines and could have been combined with gasoline to create a destructive device.
Hoffer said the men spoke to each other in Arabic after they were stopped, "getting their stories straight."
Deputies also found a laptop computer with a video Mohamed had produced and posted on the YouTube Web site. Mohamed narrated the video in Arabic, saying he wanted to teach "martyrdoms" and "suiciders" how to save themselves so they can continue to fight invaders, including U.S. soldiers.
The video was not shown to jurors in Megahed's trial. Allen has said Megahed had no knowledge of the video. A Tampa federal judge deemed it irrelevant to the case, and a U.S. appeals court upheld his ruling.
Allen sought to distance his client from Mohamed, a University of South Florida graduate student whom he had known for less than a year. He called the PVC pipe sections "model rocket motors" assembled with common household items by Megahed's friend, and put into the car trunk without Megahed's knowledge.
Ramzy Killic, director of the Council on American-Islamic Relations' Tampa Chapter, sat with Megahed's family in the courtroom as they awaited the verdict on Friday. He said he was not surprised by their finding.
"I was confident from the beginning the jury would choose fact over fear," he said.
Megahed, dressed in a white shirt and yellow tie, said that upon hearing the verdict, "I felt happy."
Before leaving the courtroom, prosecutor Robert Monk told reporters, "We respect the jury's verdict when we prevail in a case, and we respect a jury's verdict when we do not prevail in a case."
Megahed said he plans to go back to the University of South Florida to finish his engineering degree. He was one course shy of graduation at the time of his arrest. And then? "Get a job," he said.
The family said they plan to pray at their mosque tonight.
Then, Samir Megahed said, "We are going to spend the next week in the beach."
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
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