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Editorial: Jailed nearly a year, Umer Hayat should go free

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Posted: Friday, April 28, 2006 10:00 pm

The hung jury in the trial of ice cream truck driver Umer Hayat and the conviction of his son Hamid leave lots to questions, but we’re sure of this: Umer Hayat’s release from jail is overdue.

From where we sit, it appears his motive for lying — if that is indeed what he did — was to help his son. He went so far as to wear a wire for the FBI, for heaven’s sake. Just waiting to get to trial, Umer Hayat spent more time in jail that Martha Stewart, who was actually convicted of the same crime.

With so little evidence and not even an allegation of his being connected to a terrorist act, retrying him seems like an injustice, to say nothing of a waste of taxpayers’ dollars. Even if prosecutors manage to convict, Umer Hayat’s already served a just sentence.

Let him go.

Terrorism is a serious threat to national security, granted. But it would be better for the country if the evidence of wrongdoing in the next case were better than it was in these cases. The star witness, underemployed “snitch” Naseem Khan, was a joke. At best, he didn’t have his facts straight. At worst he lied to the FBI in order to feed at the taxpayer’s trough. No wonder some are calling for him to be charged with lying to the FBI.

The picture painted of both Khan and Hamid Hayat worries us. Here are rootless young men in their 20s. Even with some education, the only work they could find were as a convenience store clerk and a fruit packer. They filled their days playing video games and talking about how violence would give their lives meaning.

These two could make trouble for any society and any culture. In some communities, the devil plays with idle young hands like these and leads them to drugs, gang violence and careless sex. Some similarly inclined young Muslims are drawn to the “cause” of anti-American terrorism. All Lodians — Pakistanis and all others — should be concerned about helping young men like Hamid Hayat and Naseem Khan find a productive direction in life.

Since any of us may one day be jurors, there are some lessons to be learned from Arcelia Lopez, a juror in Hamid Hayat’s case who voted to convict and then changed her mind.

If we are called to serve, we would hope to take the job more seriously. Jurors need to make their points in the jury room. After the verdict is the wrong time to have remorse about a vote.

We were dismayed also at the performance of the jury foreman, who appeared to allow many extra-courtroom factors enter the deliberations. Racial prejudice and news articles, not in evidence should never have entered the jury room.

And what about the comments from the hung jury in Umer Hayat’s case? One said the evidence was confusing and inconclusive. Another said neither the prosecution nor the defense “made its case.” What every happened to the duty of the government to prove a crime beyond a reasonable doubt?

If fear of terrorism corroding the jury system and the very meaning of crime in this country?

In another development last week, the U.S. Attorney announced there are other investigations underway involving more Lodians. Why, after all these years of investigation, is the FBI still at it? We can’t know.

It’s up to the federal authorities to make this call, but as they ponder pursuing more difficult cases we would urge them to consider the cost this is having on Lodi as a community. Failure to close this case can only bring more suspicion on our Pakistani neighbors. Lodi needs to start healing.

Let’s hope the Department of Justice will consider to weigh the consequences of continuing to doubt the loyalty of some and how that colors the lives of a whole class. That is a form of justice, too.

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