Editor's Note: For greater detail on the Rasmieh Odeh case, her elevation to hero by Palestinian advocates, and the impact on her victims, please watch the Investigative Project on Terrorism's video series, "Spinning a Terrorist Into a Victim."
Update: The retrial has been pushed back to May 15.
Odeh with her interpreter before Judge Drain in 2015 (sketch by Jerry Lemenu)
U.S. District Judge Gershwin A. Drain ruled Tuesday that there is no legal basis to prohibit Odeh from presenting testimony claiming she suffered from post-traumatic stress when she applied for naturalization as an American citizen, and failed to disclose her Israeli conviction for two 1969 bombings in Jerusalem.
One of those bombings, at a Supersol grocery store, killed college students Edward Joffe and Leon Kanner.
Odeh confessed, but claims that it was a false statement triggered by weeks of alleged torture in Israeli custody. Israeli court records show otherwise, prosecutors say. Odeh actually confessed on her first day in captivity and helped identify dozens of other operatives in the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP) terrorist group responsible for the bombings.
Drain did not allow the psychological testimony during Odeh's 2014 trial. She was convicted and sentenced to 18 months in prison, loss of her citizenship and deportation. But the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in February that Drain erred in barring that testimony, incorrectly finding it was not relevant due to the nature of the charge. Drain might find other reasons to keep the testimony out, the appellate court ruled, or he could order a new trial allowing it.
In Tuesday's ruling, he opted for a new trial scheduled for Jan. 10.
Prosecutors had argued that Odeh's post-traumatic stress may have caused her to misunderstand questions in naturalization forms and during an interview with an immigration official asking whether she ever had been arrested or imprisoned. Odeh said no, despite her terrorist record and resulting 10 years in an Israeli prison.
She testified that she interpreted the question to apply only to her time in the United States. That was contradicted by Jennifer Williams, the immigration officer who interviewed Odeh before she was granted naturalization. She was trained to always ask applicants whether they ever were arrested or convicted "anywhere in the world," Williams testified.
Odeh never would have been allowed into the country, let alone naturalized as a citizen, had she answered the questions honestly, immigration officials testified during the 2014 trial.
But Odeh's psychologist, Mary Fabri, claims it could have been an honest oversight, saying "avoidance and sometimes even denial of thoughts, feelings, and activities associated with the trauma" caused Odeh to filter out the experience when she was asked about it.
Complicating the prosecution's challenge, it won court approval to have its own psychologist examine Odeh. He concluded that she did exhibit signs of post-traumatic stress, a finding Drain twice noted in his ruling.
"Both experts determined that Defendant most likely suffered from PTSD at the time of the charged offense," he wrote.
He rejected prosecution arguments that Fabri's theories have not been adequately tested and were not sufficiently reliable to present to a jury.
Her opinion "is relevant to whether Defendant 'knowingly' provided a false statement on her naturalization application," Drain wrote. He also rejected arguments that allowing in the psychological testimony, which is predicated on an uncorroborated torture claim, the trial's focus will stray far from the issue of whether Odeh was honest and into competing claims about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
"The Court disagrees that Dr. Fabri's testimony will likely confuse the jury or that it would unnecessarily lengthen the presentation of the evidence," Drain wrote.
Odeh supporters, who automatically accept her claims and believe every alleged horror about Israel, describe her as a "legendary Palestinian American icon." That is a view shared by other terrorists. Footage from a 1970 hijacking showed a female PFLP terrorist identifying her group as "Task Force Rasmieh Odeh."
Her supporters steadfastly refuse to believe she had a hand in the 1969 bombings even though Odeh and a co-conspirator appeared in a documentary discussing them. In a 1980 Journal of Palestine Studies article that remains online, Odeh provided details about the Supersol bombing: "Actually we placed two bombs," she said, "the first was found before it went off so we placed another.
Buoyed by Drain's ruling, they plan to bombard the U.S. Attorney's Office in Detroit demanding that it drop the case.