Trial Day 1: Jury Selection
Trial officially began today in the federal prosecution of Jucontee Thomas Woewiyu, the former Minister of Defense for Charles Taylor’s National Patriotic Front of Liberia (“NPFL”). The case is being tried in the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania, and will be heard in the James A. Byrne Courthouse in Philadelphia.
Woewiyu is accused in a 16-count criminal indictment of giving false information on his citizenship application, and of perjuring himself in related interviews, by not admitting his involvement with the NPFL. The prosecution alleges that, among other misleading statements, he lied about whether he ever advocated the overthrow of any government by force or violence; and about whether he ever persecuted anyone because of their race, religion, political opinion, or membership in a social group. To prove each of the immigration-related crimes, the prosecution will have to prove the underlying acts that Woewiyu allegedly lied about; for example, witnesses are expected to testify about his alleged group-based ethnic persecution of Krahns and Mandingos, and about his alleged opinion-based persecution of civilians whom the NPFL suspected of collaborating with its opponents.
Jury selection took place today. The prosecution and defense agreed to 12 jurors and four alternates out of the 75 potential jurors brought to court. The members of the jury will have the duty to hear the evidence presented throughout the case, and at the close of the trial they will decide if Woewiyu is guilty “beyond a reasonable doubt” on each of the 16 counts. The government prosecutors have the burden of proof, and are expected to call a number of witnesses – at least 12 of them traveling to Philadelphia from Liberia – to testify about Woewiyu’s alleged acts. The trial is expected to last approximately three weeks.
Federal Judge Anita B. Brody will preside over the trial. Judge Brody was nominated to the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania by President George H. W. Bush in 1991. She previously served as a Deputy Assistant State Attorney General in New York and a Judge of the Court of Common Pleas for Montgomery County in Pennsylvania.
There are two federal prosecutors trying the case, and two public defenders representing Woewiyu. Assistant U.S. Attorney Linwood C. Wright, Jr., is lead counsel for the prosecution, a role he also filled last year in the trial of Mohammed Jabbateh (a.k.a “Jungle Jabbah;” Civitas Maxima’s monitoring reports from that trial can be found here.) As in the Jabbateh case, he is joined by Nelson S. T. Thayer, Jr., an Assistant U.S. Attorney who previously served as a war crimes prosecutor with the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia, in The Hague. Woewiyu is being defended by Mark T. Wilson, Senior Trial Counsel at the Federal Community Defender Office for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania, who has previously represented Guantanamo detainees; and Catherine Henry, a Senior Litigator with the Federal Community Defender Office, and a lecturer at the University of Pennsylvania Law School.
Trial will continue tomorrow with opening statements, followed by the testimony of the government’s first witnesses. Watch this space for daily updates throughout the trial.