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The terrorism trial of Colombian guerilla leader Simon Trinidad has not been simple. Most witnesses live overseas and barely speak English. Last November, his first trial ended with a jury deadlocked over charges he aided in the kidnapping of three American citizens who have been held hostage for four years in Colombia. (Trinidad was caught in Ecuador while trying to obtain a fraudulent passport, and he was extradited to the United States in December 2004.) Now add this development to the mix: D.C. federal Chief Judge Thomas Hogan recused himself on the first day of Trinidad’s retrial last week, after the defense team made allegations of improper conduct. The recusal stemmed from Hogan’s decision last November, which wasn’t made public until last week, to grant an ex parte request from prosecutors to interview jurors about their deliberations after the hung jury. Defense attorneys said it was improper because they did not know of the request. Last week, Hogan said from the bench he didn’t believe he’d done anything wrong. “I believe the government is right in the sense that in most jurisdictions, either side can talk to a juror without permission of the court,” he said. But he felt that the defense’s motion “so poisoned the atmosphere in this case” that every action he “takes in the future would be subject to challenge and question.” Prosecutors asked Hogan to reconsider, but within days of Hogan’s comments the case was reassigned to Judge Royce Lamberth.
Emma Schwartz can be contacted at [email protected].

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