After less than two hours of deliberation, a Detroit federal courthouse jury reached a guilty verdict today in the government’s case against Palestinian American community leader Rasmea Odeh.
The case against Odeh centered on her alleged failure to disclose on her US immigration papers her conviction in an Israeli military court in 1969.
Dozens of supporters of Odeh had driven from Chicago through the night to be at the courthouse today for the announcement of the verdict.
As the jurors read their guilty votes, many of those seated in the gallery dropped their heads to their hands. Prior to bringing the jury into the courtroom, Judge Gershwin Drain had admonished those in the gallery not to make any reaction to the verdict.
The defense intends to file an appeal of the verdict as soon as sentencing is completed several weeks from now.
Judge endorses verdict
After the verdict was read, Judge Drain said, “I don’t normally comment on verdicts, but in this case I will: I think it’s a fair and reasonable one based on the evidence that came in.”
Lead defense attorney Michael Deutsch told The Electronic Intifada that he had never heard a judge comment on a jury’s verdict before. “That’s not his job,” Deutsch remarked. “But it is a window into his whole thinking into this trial.”
After the jury was escorted out, those in the courtroom remained seated in silence. After a few minutes, Odeh turned to those behind her and said solemnly, “Someday we will find fairness, in some place in the world.”
“Jury kept in ignorance”
Judge Drain had told lawyers that the jury was interested in speaking to them after the hearing. However, after Deutsch exited the courthouse, he told the gathering of Odeh’s supporters that the jurors did not wish to speak to the defense at all after they had spoken with the government attorneys for thirty minutes.
“That’s the kind of jury we had: they were kept ignorant of 75 percent of our defense and then they didn’t even want to hear from us at the end,” Deutsch told the crowd over a bullhorn.
Odeh told her supporters, many of whom were in tears, “I don’t want to be weak in this situation. I am strong and I ask you all to be strong.”
Odeh, 67, was granted citizenship in November 2004 after living as a permanent resident in Detroit, Michigan, and later Chicago, Illinois, since 1995. She was indicted last October, when agents from the Department of Homeland Security arrested her at her home in the Chicago suburbs.
The government charged Odeh with immigration fraud for failing to disclose her 1969 conviction in an Israeli military court on her visa and naturalization applications. They have argued that had the consular known her record, Odeh would not have been admitted into the US.
Odeh maintains that the conviction for alleged participation in bombings in Jerusalem was false and based on a confession she was forced to sign after 25 days of torture. She was later released from Israeli jail in a prisoner exchange.
Throughout the trial, Odeh’s defense maintained that she had not knowingly provided false answers, and instead believed the questions under scrutiny were only inquiring about her criminal background in the United States.
The defense had initially argued that Odeh suffers from chronic post traumatic stress disorder as a result of the sustained torture she endured during her time in Israeli detention. However, a week before the trial began, Judge Drain ruled that evidence of her torture and PTSD would not be allowed into trial.
“This was not a full or fair trial,” Hatem Abudayyeh told The Electronic Intifada. Abudayyeh is the executive director of the Arab American Action Network, where Odeh serves as associate director, and the spokesperson for the Rasmea Defense Committee. “When the judge made his rulings that the torture and PTSD would not be allowed into trial, while the evidence from the Israeli military court would — this was a travesty of justice,” Abudayyeh added.
Speaking to reporters, Odeh said, “I felt the verdict is not justice, it was a racist verdict.”
Supporters of Odeh have emphasized that the indictment was the result of an investigation of Palestinian and Palestine solidarity activists in Chicago and elsewhere in the Midwest that began in 2010. In a pretrial motion, Deutsch had argued for the charges to be dismissed on the grounds that her indictment was a product of “an illegal investigation” into activities protected by the First Amendment.
“The immigration charge is nothing but a pretext for what they were trying to go after: a Palestinian icon and legend who represents the Palestinian movement,” Abudayyeh stated on Monday.
“Palestinian people around the world are doing effective work; we’re getting stronger and stronger and Israel is on the ropes. And when Israel is on the ropes, the US government cracks down,” he added.
During Odeh’s trial last week, supporters filled the courtroom and a spillover room. After each day of the trial, the group would gather outside the courthouse holding up signs reading “Drop the charges against Rasmea.”
Gesturing to the dozens of supporters chanting outside the court, Abudayyeh said, “This is what the Palestinian-American community looks like. They understand this to be a political case … the US attorneys offices in Chicago and Detroit are doing the bidding of Israel in the prosecution of Palestinian Americans.”
Odeh faces up to ten years of imprisonment before being subject to deportation proceedings.
Deutsch told reporters that he believes there are very strong points for appealing the conviction, which Odeh’s attorneys will file after sentencing is concluded.
Update: Odeh taken into custody
The court reconvened this afternoon as Judge Drain heard a motion from the prosecution to revoke the bond on which Odeh had been released after she was arrested on 22 October last year.
Odeh’s attorneys refuted the government attorneys’ assertions that she was a flight risk, arguing that Odeh had opted to go to trial in a bid to remain in the US where she has strong community ties, rejecting a plea deal that would have seen her deported without serving jail time.
But Drain ruled for the prosecution and there were tears and gasps in the courtroom as Odeh was led away. With her head held high, Odeh said, “I am strong.”Her supporters gathered outside of the court house as their worst fear was realized — returning to Chicago while leaving behind Rasmea Odeh in a Detroit jail.