The jury foreman who last year helped convict a Lodi man of terrorism on Friday denied under oath that he had made a noose gesture and said, "Hang him" in the midst of trial.
"No your honor, never," Joseph Cote, 65, told U.S. District Judge Garland E. Burrell Jr. when asked about the allegations.
Jurors are not typically called back to court after a case ends, but Hamid Hayat's defense has argued for nearly a year that Cote was biased before the case had ended.
Hayat, convicted in April 2006, awaits sentencing on charges that could send him to prison for 39 years. His attorneys have filed a motion for a new trial, and Burrell took the request under submission without indicating when he will rule.
Cote, of Folsom, also said that bombings in London's subways - which were attributed to young Pakistani men, the same nationality as Hayat - did not factor into his thinking because they happened after the trial.
His answer, which he repeated when questioned further, perplexed attorneys because the bombings actually happened in July 2005 before the trial.
News of the attacks were featured prominently around the world, and defense attorneys have pointed to a Sacramento Bee article on the bombings, that also mentioned Hayat. During jury selection, Cote said he read the newspaper daily.
Similarly, Cote denied having any preconceived notions before he entered the jury deliberation room last year following the two-month trial. Jurors spent nine days deliberating before convicting Hayat on three counts of lying to the FBI and one count of providing material support to terrorists.
After the trial, Cote told an Atlantic Monthly magazine writer that he didn't want to see the government lose its case, and that it's better to run the risk of convicting an innocent man than to acquit a guilty one.
"Did you have those thoughts at any time prior to the commence of jury deliberations?" Burrell asked more than once, referring to several different statements in the October article.
Each time, Cote answered, "No, your honor."
The judge questioned Cote for a total of about 13 minutes over the course of nearly an hour, spending much of that time huddled at his bench with six attorneys, three for each side. Hayat's parents and siblings sat in the audience of the federal courtroom while Cote sat alone in the jury box, slightly rocking back and forth as the minutes passed.
Attorneys did not question Cote, and Burrell was limited to what he could ask, because federal rules protect much of what happens behinds closed doors of the jury deliberation room.
Defense attorney Wazhma Mojaddidi, joined by well-known San Francisco appellate attorney Dennis Riordan, has argued that Cote was prejudiced before the trial even ended. Riordan called Cote an "unresponsible reporter and recorder of the facts," based on his error in the London bombings timeline.
Additionally, in the midst of deliberations, Cote called an alternate juror because he was having troubles with another juror. The alternate juror soon ended the conversation, but Riordan argued that if the judge had learned of the call before the verdict was reached, it would have been grounds to remove Cote from the jury panel.
The government acknowledged that the call was improper but Assistant U.S. Attorney Robert Tice-Raskin told the judge that the act was not "the horrific event that the defense would have the court believe."
As for Cote's error in dates, First Assistant U.S. Attorney Larry Brown said outside court that, had the London bombings played a factor in Cote's deliberation process, he would not have mixed up the years on Friday.
The government's case against Hayat was built mostly on the secret recordings of a paid informant who befriended him, as well as hours of interviews with FBI agents the day of his arrest.
Shortly after 9/11, the informant, Naseem Khan, told FBI agents that he had seen al-Qaida's second-in-command in Lodi. Khan was sent to Lodi to infiltrate its Pakistani community and befriend its religious leaders. He didn't get far but did make friends with Hayat, who was 10 years his junior.
Riordan argued that, because several years and hundreds of thousands of dollars had been spent on the Lodi investigation, the government "needed to come up with a conviction in the case."
Prosecutors did not address that argument but pointed to the fact that a jury unanimously convicted Hayat.
When he was arrested in June 2005, Hayat, who was born in Stockton and has a sixth-grade education, had just returned from a trip to Pakistan where he had gotten married.
He remains in the Sacramento County Jail, where relatives visit every week. His father, Umer Hayat, was also charged with lying to the FBI but a separate jury could not reach a verdict.
The elder Hayat ultimately reached a deal with prosecutors by admitting to lying about the amount of money his family was taking to Pakistan on a previous trip. In exchange, all other charges were dropped and he was given credit for nearly a year spent in jail.
Umer Hayat, 49, now works six days a week, visiting his son each Sunday on his day off. He said Hamid Hayat remains optimistic, and Umer Hayat himself is convinced that his son will be freed.
"The whole community is praying for Hamid Hayat," he said. "He's innocent, so he's not worried."