A federal judge yesterday quickly dispatched a slew of motions seeking an acquittal or a new trial for the five foreign-born Muslim men convicted in December of planning a terrorist attack on Fort Dix.
"This was the fairest trial this court could provide any defendant," District Court Judge Robert B. Kugler said. "There was overwhelming evidence from which the jury could find guilt."
Yesterday's hearing in Camden was the first time the men, all raised primarily in Cherry Hill, had appeared in court since the jury verdicts.
After Kugler's rulings, agitated relatives of the defendants began calling out "This is not justice" and "It's not over."
Court security tried to calm Ferik Duka, the father of defendants Dritan, Eljvir and Shain Duka.
"Who can stop me?" he asked before saying "Allahu akbar," which means "God is great" in Arabic.
His sons, being led from the courtroom in shackles, responded loudly, "Allahu akbar."
Faten Shnewer, mother of defendant Mohamad Shnewer, also spoke up, echoing her emotional denouncement of the verdict in December.
"The judge is with the government," she said yesterday. "It's all lies."
The Duka brothers, Shnewer, and Serdar Tatar all face life in prison at their sentencings, scheduled for April.
They were convicted of conspiring to kill U.S. soldiers, but acquitted of attempted murder. One juror told The Inquirer that the panel believed that the men had seriously planned an attack, but that the plot had not progressed far enough to convict on attempted murder.
The five were arrested in May 2007 after Dritan and Shain Duka tried to buy rifles from Mahmoud Omar, an FBI informant.
Omar and a second informant, Besnik Bakalli, secretly recorded hundreds of hours of conversations with the men. The tapes formed the basis of the government's case.
Defense attorneys argued that their clients were alienated young men who had talked tough about jihad but never intended to carry out an attack. They said the informants often goaded their clients into their most inflammatory statements.
Much of the case hinged on how to interpret the men's words and actions, such as the trips they took to the Poconos, where they fired guns on a shooting range.
The defense called the trips vacations; the prosecution called them training.
Kugler yesterday said the defense motions were a restatement of the cases presented "before the jury, and which the jury rejected."
He said the jury had been carefully selected and the defendants given every opportunity to mount their case.
"We spent millions of dollars on the defense in this case," Kugler said. "Just the translations and the technical support . . . exceeded $1 million."
Since the verdict, several defendants have written to Kugler, and their relatives have been peppering the judge with letters, pleading for mercy. None of the defendants testified at the trial.
In one letter, Shnewer wrote that he regretted the "lies" he had told Omar about his codefendants being willing participants in a plan to attack the base. He said he "didn't mean any of it."
Kugler addressed that letter yesterday.
"The enormity and the quantity of what he said makes it difficult to believe he didn't mean at least some of what he said," the judge said.
Eljvir Duka also recently wrote the judge a 17-page letter - on legal-pad pages - to explain his recorded conversations, complete with citations from the transcripts.
Kugler said the letter amounted to an argument that Eljvir Duka could have presented from the stand.
"He had the opportunity to testify," Kugler said, "and he chose not to testify."