Scottish court upholds Libyan Lockerbie bomber’s conviction

By Michael Holden

LONDON (Reuters) – A Scottish court rejected on Friday an appeal to overturn the conviction of a now-deceased Libyan man found guilty of the 1988 Lockerbie plane bombing which killed 270 people.

Abdel Basset al-Megrahi, an intelligence officer who died in 2012, was jailed for life in 2001 for the murder of 243 passengers, 16 crew and 11 residents of the Scottish town in the deadliest militant attack in British history.

In March, an independent Scottish review ruled that his family could launch a third appeal due to a possible miscarriage of justice. But on Friday, five judges at the Court of Criminal Appeal in Scotland rejected that.

“The bombing of Pan Am 103 is, to this day, the deadliest terrorist attack on UK soil and the largest homicide case Scotland’s prosecutors have ever encountered in terms of scale and of complexity,” said Lord Advocate James Wolffe, Scotland’s chief legal officer.

“The evidence gathered by Scottish, U.S. and international law enforcement agencies has again been tested in the Appeal Court and the conviction of Abdelbaset Ali Mohmed Al-Megrahi stands.”

Megrahi’s son Ali said the family were heartbroken and planned to appeal to the UK Supreme Court, their lawyer Aamer Anwar said. “He maintained his father’s innocence and is determined to fulfil the promise he made to clear his name and that of Libya,” Anwar said.

Pan Am Flight 103 was blown up over Lockerbie in December 1988 en route from London to New York, carrying mostly Americans on their way home for Christmas.

After years of wrangling and sanctions against Libya, Megrahi and a second man Al-Amin Khalifa Fahima went on trial before Scottish judges at a special court in the Netherlands.

Megrahi was convicted and sentenced to life in prison, with a minimum 27 years, while Fahima was found not guilty.


Megrahi, who denied involvement in the attack, died in Libya in 2012 after being released three years earlier by the Scottish government on compassionate grounds due to prostate cancer.

Former leader Muammar Gaddafi accepted Libya’s responsibility for the bombing in 2003 and paid compensation to families, but did not admit personally ordering it.

However, Megrahi’s family and some relatives of the Scottish victims have always doubted his guilt and Libya’s responsibility, and say the truth has yet to come out.

At hearings in November, the family’s lawyers argued his conviction had rested on flawed evidence, saying prosecutors had failed to prove a link between clothing in the suitcase carrying the bomb and Megrahi.

Last month, the United States unsealed criminal charges against a third alleged conspirator Abu Agila Mohammad Masud Kheir Al-Marimi, a former senior Libyan intelligence official currently in Libyan custody.

The Justice Department accuses Masud of carrying the bomb from Libya to Malta in a suitcase and setting its timer.

(Reporting by Michael Holden; Editing by William James and Andrew Cawthorne)

Impeachment or the 14th Amendment: Can Trump be barred from future office?

By Jan Wolfe

(Reuters) – Some U.S. lawmakers have said President Donald Trump should be disqualified from holding political office again following his impeachment on Wednesday for inciting a mob that stormed the Capitol as lawmakers were certifying President-elect Joe Biden’s victory.

Now that the House has impeached Trump, the Senate will hold a trial on whether to remove him and possibly bar him from future office.

Legal experts said disqualification could be accomplished through the impeachment proceedings or the 14th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.

Here is how the disqualification effort could play out.


The U.S. Constitution says there are two ways to punish an impeached official: removal from office or “disqualification to hold and enjoy any office of honor, trust or profit under the United States.”

The House approved a single article of impeachment accusing Trump of inciting insurrection when he delivered a speech to supporters.

Trump is likely to argue at trial that his remarks were free speech protected by the Constitution’s First Amendment and that, while he told supporters to “fight,” he did not intend it as a literal call to violence.

Removing an official requires a “conviction” by a two-thirds Senate majority under the Constitution. Under precedent, only a simple majority is needed for disqualification. Historically, that vote only happens after a conviction.

Three federal officials in U.S. history have been disqualified through impeachment proceedings. All three were federal judges.

Most recently, in 2010 the Senate removed and disqualified from future office a Louisiana judge found to have engaged in corruption.

There is some debate over the scope of the disqualification clause and whether it applies to the presidency, said Brian Kalt, a law professor at Michigan State University.

Analyzing historical documents, some law experts say the founders did not intend the presidency to be considered an “office” under the disqualification clause, while others argue that the term applies.


This is uncharted legal territory, and there is no clear answer, scholars said.

Paul Campos, a professor of constitutional law at the University of Colorado, said he believed a vote to disqualify Trump can be held even if there are not enough votes for conviction. The U.S. Supreme Court has made clear that the Senate has wide latitude to determine how it conducts a trial, he said.

But Kalt said he thought disqualification would require conviction first. To do otherwise would be the equivalent of punishing the president for an offense he did not commit, Kalt said.

All three judges who were disqualified from office were first convicted.


Section 3 of the 14th Amendment provides an alternative path for disqualification.

The provision states that no person shall hold office if they have engaged in “insurrection or rebellion” against the United States. It was enacted following the Civil War to bar Confederates from holding public office.

Under congressional precedent, only a simple majority of both chambers is needed to invoke this penalty. Congress can later remove the disqualification, but only if two-thirds of both houses vote in favor of doing so.

In 1919, Congress used the 14th Amendment to block an elected official, Victor Berger, from assuming his seat in the House because he had actively opposed U.S. intervention in World War I.

The text of Section 3 of the 14th Amendment does not explain how it should be invoked.

Another section the 14th Amendment, Section 5, empowers Congress to enforce the entire amendment through “appropriate legislation.” Some scholars have interpreted this language to mean that a majority of both chambers of Congress could enact a law applying a ban to a particular president, like Trump.

“The 14th Amendment route is very unclear as to what it would take to get it rolling,” said Kalt. “I think it would require some combination of legislation and litigation.”


It is certainly possible, said Kalt.

A Supreme Court case from 1993 makes clear that the court is wary of second-guessing how the Senate handles impeachment. In that case, involving an accused judge, the court said whether the Senate had properly tried an impeachment was a political question and could not be litigated.

If Trump is disqualified, the current Supreme Court might want to clarify whether the move was lawful, Kalt said.

Trump appointed three of the Supreme Court’s nine members: Justices Neil Gorsuch, Brett Kavanaugh and most recently Amy Coney Barrett. The court now has a six-judge conservative majority.

“If you are going to say someone can’t run, you want to get that litigated and settled sooner rather than later,” Kalt said.

(Reporting by Jan Wolfe; Editing by Noeleen Walder and Aurora Ellis)

Federal prosecutors to fight Boston Marathon bomber’s appeal

FILE PHOTO: A pedestrian walks past a memorial for the victims of the Boston Marathon bombings and its aftermath near the race's finish line, on the second day of jury selection in the trial of accused Boston Marathon bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev in Boston, Massachusetts January 6, 2015. REUTERS/Brian Snyder

BOSTON (Reuters) – Prosecutors on Thursday will urge a federal appeals court to uphold Boston Marathon bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev’s conviction and death penalty sentence for helping carry out the 2013 attack, which killed three people and wounded more than 260 others.

The U.S. Justice Department is expected to file a brief urging the 1st U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Boston to reject Tsarnaev’s arguments that he was deprived of a fair trial when a judge declined to move the case out of the city rocked by one of the highest-profile attacks on U.S. soil since Sept. 11, 2001.

Their arguments are due by midnight EDT (0400 GMT Friday).

Defense lawyers in a brief filed in December acknowledged that their client, then 19, carried out the April 15, 2013, attack along with his 26-year-old brother, Tamerlan Tsarnaev, who died in a gunbattle with police days later.

But they argued that wall-to-wall media coverage of the bombings meant that nearly the entire jury pool was exposed to news about the attacks, which included “heart-wrenching stories about the homicide victims, the wounded and their families.”

Many victims of the blasts at the packed finished line of the race lost legs.

Defense lawyers said U.S. District Judge George O’Toole also ignored evidence that two jurors had commented on the case on social media before being picked and prevented the defense from telling jurors about Tsarnaev’s brother’s ties to a 2011 triple murder.

That evidence, they said, would have supported their sentencing-related argument that Tsarnaev was a junior partner in a scheme run by his older brother, “an angry and violent man” who had embraced radical Islam.

Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, now 25, is a prisoner in the federal “Supermax” facility in Florence, Colorado.

Prosecutors in a filing earlier this month previewing their opposition brief said they planned to argue that Tsarnaev’s right to a fair trial was not violated.

A federal jury in 2015 found Tsarnaev guilty of placing a pair of homemade pressure-cooker bombs near the finish line of the world-renowned race, as well as fatally shooting a policeman three days later.

The bombing killed three people: Martin Richard, 8; Chinese exchange student Lingzi Lu, 26, and restaurant manager Krystle Campbell. Tsarnaev shot dead Massachusetts Institute of Technology police officer Sean Collier, 26.

A park dedicated to Richard’s memory opened this month on the Boston waterfront.

(Reporting by Nate Raymond; Editing by Scott Malone and Susan Thomas)

Connecticut man faces up to 140 years in prison for threatening to kill Trump, others

FILE PHOTO: U.S. President Donald Trump walks to a waiting Marine One helicopter as he departs for travel to Florida from the White House in Washington, U.S., May 8, 2019. REUTERS/Clodagh Kilcoyne

By Gabriella Borter

(Reuters) – A Connecticut man has been indicted after prosecutors say he threatened to kill U.S. President Donald Trump and sent others bomb threats and mail containing suspicious white powder, according to court documents.

Gary Gravelle, 51, was indicted on 16 counts, including that he threatened the president in September 2018 by sending an envelope containing white powder and the handwritten message “You Die.”

He sent similar envelopes to a synagogue, a mosque and a chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), according to the indictment.

The note claimed the power was a biotoxin but it was found to be harmless, officials said.

Gravelle also sent emails and made phone calls threatening to detonate bombs in Vermont, Washington and at various locations in Connecticut, including government buildings and a mental health facility.

If convicted of all 16 counts, he could face a maximum prison sentence of 140 years.

Gravelle was previously sentenced in 2013 for sending threatening communications and had been released under federal supervision until his arrest on the new charges last year, according to U.S. Attorney John Durham’s statement on Friday.

It was not immediately clear if Gravelle had a lawyer.

(Reporting by Gabriella Borter; Editing by Lisa Shumaker)

Suspect charged with second murder in Ohio nightclub shooting

FILE PHOTO -- The parking lot of Cameo Nightlife club remains empty after police removed barrier tape from the scene of a mass shooting in Cincinnati, Ohio, U.S. March 26, 2017. REUTERS/Caleb Hughes/File Photo

By Timothy Mclaughlin

(Reuters) – A grand jury in Ohio indicted a man suspected of opening fire in a crowded Cincinnati nightclub on a second murder charge Thursday after another suspect died this week.

The charge was one of 38 brought against Cornell Beckley, 27, who faces 230 years in prison if convicted on all charges in the shooting, Hamilton County Prosecutor Joe Deters told a news conference in Cincinnati.

“We identified him (Beckley) through multiple sources as the initial shooter,” Deters said.

A second suspect, Deondre Davis, 29, who was charged with murder while critically injured, died Tuesday morning at the University of Cincinnati Medical Center, according to police.

Bryan Spikes, 27, died shortly after the March 26 shooting at the Cameo Nightlife club in which 16 other people were injured.

Beckley pleaded not guilty at an arraignment hearing in Cincinnati Municipal Court last week on the initial charge and is being held on a $1.7 million bond.

Davis and Beckley would have faced identical indictments had Davis lived, Deters said. A third gun was found in the club and police are searching for a third shooter.

The gunfire, which sent hundreds of patrons fleeing and ducking for cover, erupted from a dispute inside the club between two groups from different neighborhoods, Deters said.

Beckley climbed onto the club’s stage and began shooting at around 1:30 a.m., prosecutors said. Davis started shooting after Beckley opened fire.

The club had persistent problems with violence, according to police. The club’s owner surrendered his liquor license and the club was closed, police said on Thursday.

Unlike last year’s Pulse nightclub massacre in Orlando, Florida, in which 49 people died, making it the deadliest mass shooting in U.S. history, there were no indications the Cincinnati shooting was “terrorism-related,” according to authorities.

“People say this was a mass shooting. It was a shoot-out,” Deters said.

Cincinnati Mayor John Cranley called the incident the worst mass shooting in the city’s history.

One victim remains in critical condition, Deters said.

(Reporting by Timothy Mclaughlin in Chicago; Editing by James Dalgleish)

NY man linked to Islamic State gets 20 years prison for New Year’s Eve plot

By Jonathan Stempel

(Reuters) – An upstate New York man was sentenced on Thursday to 20 years in prison after pleading guilty to conspiring to provide material support to Islamic State, in connection with his alleged role in preparing a New Year’s Eve attack in 2015 at a local club or bar.

Emanuel Lutchman, 26, of Rochester, was sentenced by Chief Judge Frank Geraci of the federal court in that city, following his August 11 guilty plea, the U.S. Department of Justice said.

The prison term was the maximum possible, and Lutchman was also sentenced to 50 years of supervised release. He has been in custody since his Dec. 30, 2015 arrest.

A federal public defender representing Lutchman did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

According to his plea agreement, Lutchman admitted to having bought a machete, knives, ski masks and other items for his attack, in which he was prepared to kidnap or kill people, and planned to later release a video explaining his actions.

The defendant also admitted to having conspired with Abu Issa Al-Amriki, a now deceased member of Islamic State in Syria, hoping that a successful attack would help him gain membership into the group, the Justice Department said.

Lutchman had also expressed support for Islamic State on social media, and gathered issues of Inspire, an online magazine published by al Qaeda, designed to help people conduct “‘lone wolf’ terrorist attacks” in the United States, the department added.

The defendant was arrested soon after recording a video in which he pledged allegiance to Islamic State, vowed to “spill the blood” of non-believers, and asked Allah to “make this a victory.”

Lutchman’s lawyer had sought a 10-year prison term.

In a court filing, he said Lutchman had since age 14 had “extensive” mental health issues including bipolar disorder and depression, and was easily influenced by radical Islam, but has now “renounced” Islamic State and “seen its empty promise.”

(Reporting by Jonathan Stempel in New York; Editing by David Gregorio)

Florida airport shooting suspect indicted on 22 criminal counts

law enforcement walk at ft. lauderdale airport

TAMPA, Fla. (Reuters) – A federal grand jury has indicted on 22 criminal counts an Iraq war veteran suspected of killing five people in a mass shooting at a Florida airport this month, U.S. prosecutors said on Thursday.

Esteban Santiago, 26, is accused of opening fire in the baggage claim area of the Fort Lauderdale airport on Jan. 6. The charges against him include multiple counts of violence at an airport resulting in death and injury, as well as firearms crimes.

If convicted, he could be punished by life imprisonment or death. The U.S. Attorney General has not decided whether to seek a death sentence, the prosecutors office said.

The indictment was returned by a federal grand jury in Broward County, Florida, where the attack occurred, prosecutors in the U.S. Southern District of Florida said in a news release.

Authorities said Santiago aimed at victims’ heads and bodies until he ran out of ammunition and was taken into custody. Five people were killed in the attack and six others wounded.

The indictment accuses Santiago of “substantial planning and premeditation to cause the death of a person.”

The attack was the latest in a series of deadly U.S. mass shootings, some inspired by Islamist militants, others carried out by loners or the mentally disturbed.

Santiago had a history of erratic behavior. Authorities have said they were investigating whether mental illness played a role in the shooting.

Court records show he is being represented by a public defender. A representative answering calls for the office said it had no immediate comment.

An arraignment hearing in Santiago’s case is scheduled in federal court in Fort Lauderdale on Monday.

A private first class in the National Guard who served in Iraq from 2010 to 2011, Santiago traveled from Alaska to Florida on a one-way airline ticket with a handgun and ammunition in his checked luggage, according to authorities.

Upon arrival, he claimed his gun case and loaded the weapon in a men’s bathroom, investigators said in a criminal complaint. He opened fire on the first people he saw after leaving the restroom, it said.

Santiago told investigators he was inspired by Islamic State and had previously chatted online with Islamist extremists, according to FBI testimony presented in court.

(Reporting by Letitia Stein; Editing by Colleen Jenkins and James Dalgleish)

Boston Marathon Bomber Convicted

Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, one of the two brothers who carried out an Islamic terrorist attack on the Boston Marathon April 15, 2013, has been found guilty of multiple charges.

The conviction included charges that can bring the death penalty such as conspiracy and use of a weapon of mass destruction.

The conviction was not unexpected as his lawyers admitted he participated in the attack.  The defense had stated their goal was to put doubt in the minds of the jury regarding his motivations in an attempt to spare him the death penalty.  The defense painted Dzhokhar as being brainwashed by his older brother Tamerlan into radical Islam.

“If not for Tamerlan, [the bombing] would not have happened,” Clarke told the jury during closing arguments.

The trial now moves to the punishment phase with the same jurors from the initial phase of the trial.

Prosecutors will be focusing on the fact that extremist Jihadi websites were found on both brother’s computers.  They also showed the writings of Dzhokhar on the boat where he was captured that read “stop killing our innocent people and we will stop.”

Defense attorney Judy Clarke has worked with other high-profile clients to have them spared the death penalty.  She worked to keep the Unabomber and Susan Smith, who drowned her children, from being sent to death row.

Mother Charged With Dumping Baby In Roadside Drain

A 30-year-old woman in Sydney, Australia is facing serious charges after police say they threw her newborn son in a roadside ditch and left him to die.

The week old child is listed in “serious but stable condition” at Westmead Children’s Hospital.  Cyclists on the M7 Motorway heard the child’s crying from an 8 foot deep drain.

Saifale Nai did not appear in court on the attempted murder charge against her and the court denied bail.

“Police will allege the baby, believed to have been born on Monday (Nov. 17), was placed into the drain on Tuesday,” the police statement on the charges stated.

Nai faces 25 years in prison if convicted.

Police say that it took six men to lift the 440 pound concrete lid over the drain.  The baby reportedly was stuffed through a narrow drain opening.