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learnedly read, too; in part, of intellectual rigor
Posted Tuesday, July 6, 2010
NORTH MIAMI, Fla.-”Four years after the U.S. government accused Lyglenson
Lemorin of plotting terrorist acts, and two and a half years after a jury found
him not guilty, the 35-year-old Haitian remains in jail, with no idea how long
he will be held.
Found Not Guilty of
Terrorism Is Not Free, Either
|By JOEL MILLMAN
Despite Mr. Lemorin's 2007 acquittal, Immigration and Customs Enforcement
officials still consider him a national-security risk, essentially because he
knew the co-defendants in his own case. After Mr. Lemorin's trial, an
immigration judge agreed, ruling that he had provided "material support" to
terrorists by having worked at the construction business of a co-defendant who
was convicted of conspiracy and imprisoned.
The government intended to send Mr. Lemorin (leh-moh-REEN) back to Haiti after
his appeal was rejected in December. Immigration judges have wide discretion to
remove people from the U.S., including permanent residents such as Mr. Lemorin.
Grounds of "moral turpitude" can cover anything from committing minor crimes
to-as in this case-associating with undesirable people.
But that plan was stymied by the January earthquake that devastated that country
and led the U.S. government to offer Temporary Protected Status to Haitians
here. About 225,000 people are currently eligible for that designation,
temporarily preventing the government from relocating them to countries in
distress from civil strife or natural disaster, regardless of their legal
status. More than 50,000, including
Mr. Lemorin, have applied.
Now Mr. Lemorin's lawyer Rhonda Gelfman has petitioned immigration authorities
to release her client on the grounds that the only reason they are detaining him
is to remove him-and that under TPS they couldn't.
"There are two conditions Mr. Lemorin qualifies under" for release, Ms. Gelfman
said. "He's a Haitian, and he's never been convicted of a crime."
In what has become a common tactic in terrorism cases, immigration courts detain
defendants acquitted on criminal charges, usually relying on the same evidence,
legal experts say. Immigration courts treat these as civil cases in which "there
is a lower burden of proof," said Charles Kuck, another lawyer representing Mr.
Lemorin, in an appeal of the removal order to the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of
Appeals. Immigrants face what defense attorneys call "de facto double jeopardy"
when they are detained after acquittal, Mr. Kuck said.
Another of Mr. Kuck's clients, an Egyptian-born university student named Youssef
Megahed, was held for more than a year after a Tampa, Fla., jury acquitted him
of possession of explosives in 2008. He ultimately was released and now is
attempting to become a naturalized U.S. citizen.
In still another case, a Saudi man named Sami al-Hussayen was acquitted in 2004,
in Idaho, of charges that a Muslim charity's website he worked on ran coded,
pro-terrorism messages. He was held for 15 months before he accepted a plea
bargain and returned to Saudi Arabia.
Mr. Kuck sees the earthquake playing a role apart from whether Mr. Lemorin
qualifies for TPS. His argument: Haitian authorities have suspended the
reception of returned immigrants since the crisis, forcing U.S. jails to hold
deportees. He plans to argue that his client's long detention should end unless
U.S. officials can demonstrate that Mr. Lemorin poses a security risk to the
Federal authorities declined to comment on Mr. Lemorin's case or his TPS
application, citing privacy concerns. Nicole Navas, spokeswoman for the Miami
office of ICE, would only confirm that Mr. Lemorin remains in the immigration
Mr. Lemorin, who emigrated to Florida with his mother as a boy and who holds a
permanent-resident card, was one of seven men from Miami's Liberty City
neighborhood charged in a July 2006 case brought against mainly Haitian and
African-American suspects who had joined a community-renewal organization.
Federal officials characterized the group as a terrorist movement that had
pledged loyalty to al Qaeda after meeting with two men from Yemen and Lebanon.
At the time, Attorney General Alberto Gonzales called the arrests a breakthrough
against home-grown conspiracies, in what came to be called the Liberty City
Seven case. He asserted that the suspects had planned to destroy Chicago's Sears
Tower and launch jihad inside the U.S.
But even the government conceded there was little clear evidence that an attack
on the skyscraper was in the works, according to evidence presented at trial.
Poorly educated and practically destitute, the defendants didn't seem to have
the means to engage in jihad, or to train with weapons or explosives, court
Defense attorneys argued that the principal acts of the alleged
conspiracy-swearing a loyalty oath to al Qaeda and videotaping federal buildings
in Miami as future targets-occurred at the behest of the two Arab witnesses, who
later were identified in court as FBI informants.
Jurors accepted the defense that Mr. Lemorin had moved to Atlanta to distance
himself from the group rather than to start an al Qaeda cell, as the government
Narseal Batiste, the group's leader, testified that although Mr. Lemorin did
swear loyalty to al Qaeda, he did so only because he and his co-defendants
thought they were scamming the two Arabs, who had promised to give $50,000 to
Mr. Batiste's community program.
Jurors were unable to reach a verdict on the six defendants who remained after
Mr. Lemorin's acquittal, and who were tried jointly, forcing a mistrial. In a
2008 retrial, jurors again failed to reach a verdict. About a year ago, jurors
convicted five members of the group, including Mr. Batiste, Mr. Lemorin's former
employer, who received prison sentences ranging from four to 13 years.
The sixth, a U.S. citizen named Naudimar Herrera, was, like Mr. Lemorin,
acquitted. Mr. Herrera is the only member of the original seven defendants not
in jail today. Mr. Lemorin continued to languish in jail.
As Mr. Lemorin's attorneys prepare their arguments, Mr. Kuck is skeptical of Ms.
Gelfman's attempt to spring his client under TPS.
"I'm a big fan of Don Quixote," he said, "but this argument goes way beyond
quixotic." Ms. Gelfman concedes that her strategy is a long shot. Neither thinks
the approach will hurt their client. Even if the TPS gambit fails, Mr. Kuck is
convinced a district court will soon grant Mr. Lemorin conditional release,
perhaps involving an electronic monitor on his ankle, on other grounds.
The reason is simple, he said: "They can't send him home because of the
earthquake, and they can't hold him forever."
Write to Joel Millman at
Copyright 2009 Dow Jones & Company, Inc.
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