BOSTON (AP/MyFoxBoston.com) - A lawyer for a Massachusetts man convicted of conspiring to help al-Qaida has argued that numerous terror-related images used by prosecutors at his trial prejudiced the jury against him.
Tarek Mehanna was sentenced to 17 1/2 years in prison after being convicted last year.
Prosecutors say Mehanna traveled to Yemen for training in a terrorist camp and intended to go to Iraq to fight U.S. soldiers. When that failed, prosecutors say, Mehanna returned to the U.S. and disseminated materials online promoting violent jihad.
In arguments Tuesday before the 1st U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, Mehanna's lawyer said prosecutors showed images of the Sept. 11 terror attacks and videos of beheadings during his trial to frighten jurors.
But a Justice Department lawyer said the images demonstrated Mehanna's ideology, including a need he felt to help al-Qaida. Liza Collery said the evidence was used to show what Mehanna's beliefs originally were, how he became radicalized and how he became involved in creating jihadist "propaganda."
Collery said Mehanna portrayed himself as a "scholarly man in search of enlightenment" when he traveled to Yemen, but the evidence contradicted that claim, including a transcript of a recorded conversation with a friend in which Mehanna said he was deeply disappointed he was not able to find al-Qaida operatives while he was in Yemen.
Justice Bruce Selya questioned Collery extensively about whether the amount of terror-related images presented by prosecutors was cumulative and prejudicial, saying the argument from Mehanna is that the "government grossly overdid it."
"Terrorism sparks emotions in all of us. It's a particularly heinous crime," Selya said, later adding, "This is a hard case."
Collery said the trial judge considered and then rejected the notion that the government was piling on with the number of images it presented.
The three-judge panel gave no indication on when it will issue its ruling. Typically, the court issues its rulings within four months after oral arguments.
Dozens of Mehanna's supporters attended the hearing. Mehanna's father, Ahmed, said afterward he is hopeful.
"I hope justice will be served at that level of the court," he said, referring to the appeals courts.
Prosecutors said Mehanna lived a double life, appearing as a scholarly young man to his family and community, but actually was someone who advocated violence to achieve political goals.
Mehanna's lawyers said that Mehanna did not provide any tangible support, such as money or weapons to al-Qaida, and that his online activities were protected by the First Amendment right to free speech.
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