Holy Land Foundation Trial

After deliberating for over two weeks, perhaps the most lengthy deliberation in Texas history, the jury finally returned a verdict (sort of) in the Holy Land Foundation trial. Before explaining the wacky verdict, let me first give an overview of what was at issue in the trial.

The Holy Land Foundation is a muslim charitable organization that is based in Richardson, Texas. Mostly muslims contribute to the foundation which then directs the money to aid organizations in Palestine (Not Palestine, Texas). Hamas is a political and military organization which operates in the Middle East. One of the goals of Hamas is to drive Israel from its postion of control over the Palestinian territories.   One of the tools that Hamas employs in its war with Israel is the use of suicide bombers. In the 1990’s the United States government designated Hamas as a terrorist organization making it essentially illegal for anyone in the United States to interact with Hamas.

The core accusation in the Holy Land Foundation trial was that the foundation was intentionally giving indirect aid to Hamas. As stated, Hamas is not only a military organization, but a political organization. As a politcal organization it gives aid to the people in Palestine generally, and in particular gives aid to the surviving relatives of suicide bombers. The government alleged that the individuals who operated the Holy Land Foundation were intentionally alleviating Hamas of the financial obligations it would otherwise have undertaken so that it could expend more funds on military and terrorist operations. The defendants asserted that did not know that the aid their foundation was providing was indirectly aiding Hamas, and nor was it their intention to do aid Hamas.

The defense team consisted of some of the best criminal defense lawyers in the local area and few national luminaries such as Nancy Hollander and John Klein. The trial was lengthy, complex and often excruciatingly tedious.  After the evidence was submitted to the juries things really began to fall apart.

Apparently, a few days into deliberations one juror couldn’t handle the pressure and literally attempted to bolt from the courthouse.     An alternate juror was placed on the panel and deliberations began anew. Then the jury sent a note to the judge stating that some of the jurors refused to participate in votes on the 160 some odd counts alleged in the indictment. Finally, the jury reported that it had reached a verdict. The judge was at a conference, however, and he ordered the jury to come back the following Monday to return the verdict in open court. When he opened the sealed envelope, surprise! The jury had in fact reached a verdict on only a small portion of the counts. Then when the judge “polled” the jury in open the court as to whether the verdict form accurately reflected their verdict, at least one juror changed her mind and said it did not. One defendant was acquitted on all counts but one, and for everyone else the end result was a mistrial. Millions of dollars of taxpayer money expended for naught. The government has promised to retry the defendants and the judge has promised that he will not be the one presiding over the second trial. (Who can blame him?) There is no word yet to which judge the case will be assigned to the case or how many of members of the defense team will be willing to participate in the redux. Perhaps with the passage of time the prosecutors will mellow and think of better ways to expend the taxpayers’ dollars than in a multimillion dollar trial that may very well result in another hung jury or more acquittals.

Mick Mickelsen is a nationally recognized criminal trial attorney with more than 30 years of experience defending people charged with white-collar crimes, drug offenses, sex crimes, murder, and other serious state and federal offenses.