Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Bomb plot suspect wears mask in court

WACO — Pfc. Naser Jason Abdo wore a mask over his mouth in federal court as a jury was selected in his trial.

In a previous court appearance, the 22-year-old soldier bit his lip and spit blood on security officers. In the courtroom Monday, three U.S. marshals sat near the defendant, wearing protective eyewear.

Abdo is accused of plotting to bomb Fort Hood soldiers at a Killeen restaurant last summer. He was arrested at a Killeen hotel in late July. The once clean-shaven soldier from Fort Campbell, Ky., now has facial hair.

The private is charged with several federal felonies stemming from the alleged plot, including attempting to use a weapon of mass destruction. He also is accused of attempted murder of officers or employees of the U.S. government, which carries a maximum penalty of life in prison. Abdo, who was AWOL at the time of his July 27 arrest, is not being tried in military court.

Thirteen jurors were selected Monday from a pool of 70. Throughout the day,

prosecuting and defense attorneys probed the jury pool, dismissing many who said they had preconceived notions about the case from media coverage and connections to the military.

"I'm for the military all the way," said a Copperas Cove woman whose husband works on Fort Hood. She was dismissed following questioning from U.S. District Court Judge Walter S. Smith Jr., prosecutor Mark Frazier and court-appointed lead defense attorney Zachary Boyd.

Media reports of Abdo's masked appearance permeated some of the potential jurors. One woman, who wasn't selected for jury service, told the court she heard a radio report about the mask during the lunch hour.

Her remarks prompted the defense to ask the remaining jury pool if Abdo's appearance would taint their objectivity.

"I have a concern," said Boyd. "My client looks different because he has a mask on today. Does anybody here have a problem with the fact that my client has a mask on today?"

None of the potential jurors signaled that Abdo's appearance affected their opinion.

Boyd also asked if Abdo's Muslim faith would taint their objectivity in the case. One man in the jury pool said it would, but he was not in the main group from which jurors were selected.

Judge Smith denied a defense motion asking for Abdo to appear in court without the mask. Opening arguments are expected to begin today.

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