CHICAGO (CBS) — The courtroom was packed and security tight, with metal detectors outside and armed federal marshals inside, as jury selection began in the trial of a Chicago man accused of plotting the 2008 terror attacks in Mumbai, India.
As CBS 2′s Derrick Blakley reports, defense attorneys acknowledge they have some difficult obstacles to overcome to ensure an impartial jury and a fair trial.
Dressed in a gray suit, Chicago businessman Tahawwur Rana politely told almost 100 potential jurors “good morning” as they entered the courtroom. The jurors filled out forms with more than 60 questions about their background and attitudes. Rana’s attorneys say attitudes toward Islam present a steep hurdle in picking a jury.
“Some polls have shown that Americans hold as much as an 80 percent dislike or distrust of Muslim Americans or people of Muslim faith,” said attorney Charlie Swift. “The important part here is that Dr. Rana get a jury of his peers, and what that means is people who can be fair.”
Rana is accused of helping an accomplice plot attacks against a Danish newspaper that angered Muslims worldwide, by printing cartoons of the prophet Muhammad.
He is also charged with helping the same partner to plan the 2008 terrorist attacks in Mumbai that killed 170.
If prejudice against Islam is one hurdle, the violent toll of that rampage is another.
“The Mumbai attack is a horrible, tragic event,” said attorney Patrick Blegen. “It causes a lot of emotions in people. It may cause people to lose sight of the facts and logic. We need jurors who won’t do that.
Despite those hurdles, Rana’s attorneys say they’re encouraged by the diversity of the juror pool, which they called a cross-section of America.
Starting tomorrow, Judge Harry Leinenweber will individually question each potential juror–with a goal of seating a jury this week. Opening statements are scheduled a week from today.