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The last time a major terrorism trial took place in Detroit, the prosecution didn’t fare so well. The 2003 convictions of four North African immigrants facing terrorism charges were overturned due to prosecutorial misconduct, and the lead Assistant U.S. Attorney on the case lost his job. This time around, lawyers say, things should go more smoothly for federal prosecutors handling the case of the Nigerian man charged with trying to blow up a plane en route to Detroit on Christmas Day. Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, who was charged in a six-count criminal indictment on Wednesday, is scheduled to be arraigned in federal court on Friday. “Nobody could mess this one up,” said former federal prosecutor David Griem, now a criminal defense lawyer of counsel to Southfield, Mich.’s Jaffe Raitt Heuer & Weiss. Nonetheless, the prosecution and the defense have both assembled legal teams with experience related to the failed 2003 prosecution. Miriam Siefer of the Federal Defender Office in Detroit is the lead attorney for Abdulmutallab. Siefer oversaw the defense of Karim Koubriti, one of the four men convicted in 2003 on terrorism charges whose convictions were later overturned. In 1995, Siefer represented James Nichols on charges related to the Oklahoma City bombing that sent his brother Terry to prison for life. Siefer will be joined by seasoned defense lawyers Jill Price and Leroy Soles. Price, a public defender for more than 25 years, represented David Serra, who was sentenced to 30 years in prison for fatally shooting a Federal Protective Services officer in Detroit in 2001. Soles, a public defender since 1983, also worked on the failed terrorism case in 2003. Siefer did not return calls for comment. The federal government has assembled a team of prosecutors in the U.S. Attorney’s office in Detroit, assisted by the Counterterrorism Section of the U.S. Department of Justice’s National Security Division. U.S. Attorney Barbara McQuade, who was sworn in Monday to lead to the Detroit office, has named four Assistant U.S. Attorneys who will handle the case. Eric Straus, head of the office’s criminal and national security division, will oversee the prosecution. Straus helped conduct the investigation that showed prosecutors in the 2003 terror trial had withheld evidence from the defense. Also assigned to the Christmas Day bombing case are Cathleen Corken, Jonathan Tukel and Michael Martin. Corken, a federal government lawyer for 25 years, worked on the prosecution of shoe-bomber Richard Reid, who in 2001 unsuccessfully tried to ignite hidden explosives in his shoe while on a Paris-to-Miami flight. Tukel, with nearly 20 years in the Detroit office and a brief stint at Main Justice, is chief of the office’s national security unit. And Martin joined the U.S. Attorney’s office last year after serving as a trial attorney in the Justice Department’s National Security Division. He has also worked as an intelligence analyst for the CIA. McQuade, who declined comment for this story, has publicly said that she is confident in her team’s ability to handle this case and that they have the needed experience. “The attempted murder of 289 innocent people merits the most serious charges available,” McQuade said in announcing the six-count indictment on Jan. 6. According to the indictment, Northwest Airlines flight 253 carried 279 passengers and 11 crew members. Abdulmutallab allegedly boarded the flight in Amsterdam on Dec. 25, carrying a concealed bomb containing high explosives. Shortly before landing in Detroit, he detonated the bomb, causing a fire on board flight 253. Abdulmutallab was then subdued and restrained by the passengers and flight crew members. The airplane landed shortly thereafter, and he was taken into custody by U.S. Customs and Border Protection officers. Some criminal defense lawyers concede this will be a tough case to take to trial. “There does not seem to be many issues of actual dispute. And there are enough witnesses on the plane,” said Bernard Kleinman, a solo criminal defense lawyer in White Plains, N.Y., who has represented defendants in terrorism trials. The defendant’s father contacting the U.S. and British embassies about his son’s “radicalism” doesn’t bode well for the defense, either, Kleinman added. “I do not think that it would go to trial,” Kleinman said.

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