Terror Financing: After the Holy Land Foundation case ended in a mistrial, Muslim groups cheered and scolded the U.S. for a witch hunt. But defendants got some help from the inside.
It turns out that a Hamas-sympathizing juror sabotaged the biggest terror-funding case in U.S. history by bullying jurors who favored convictions.
According to interviews conducted since the October mistrial, juror William Neal intimidated colleagues into voting for acquittals of Holy Land leaders accused of funneling millions to Hamas suicide bombers and their families.
Neal, a Dallas graphic artist who voted not guilty across the board, launched into obscenity-laced tirades against jurors whenever they tried to argue for conviction. "F--- your opinion," Neal, 33, allegedly shouted at 49-year-old juror Kristina Williams.
Two other jurors leaning toward guilty verdicts corroborated the account in interviews with Steve Emerson's Investigative Project. Sylvester Holmes, for one, says Neal trashed any evidence presented by the government and "took control of that jury room."
Neal convinced jurors it was a "waste of time" to view key surveillance videotapes of defendants scheming to disguise terror payments as charity. He discredited prosecution witnesses as Israeli tools. And he dismissed as "an exercise in free speech" a fundraising skit in which one Holy Land defendant is shown lionizing a Hamas terrorist for killing an Israeli.
By his own admission, Neal says he tricked prosecutors to get on the jury and torpedo their case. He says he led them to believe, during the jury-selection process, that he was pro-war and sympathetic to their case.
"My answers looked like I was a pro-American, you know, flag-waving American," he said in a Dallas radio interview. "They thought I was not going to be able to think for myself and just go on the facts that these were Muslims."
In truth, Neal resented the U.S. government for backing Israel against Palestinian terrorists and, according to another juror, had his mind made up from the start to nullify its case against the U.S.-based Hamas front.
In fact, he refused to even recognize Hamas as a terrorist group, even though the U.S. has listed it as one for the past decade.
"It's a political movement . . . an uprising," he told the Dallas Morning News, adding that the Palestinians "are oppressed by the Israeli government."
Instead of showing Hamas "bomb belts," he told a local TV station, "you should show what Israeli people are doing to Palestinian people."
In the radio interview, Neal complained that his fellow jurors were ignorant about Mideast affairs and needed to be set straight.
"A lot of these people are blue collar — you know, working UPS, working food, cafeteria cashier," he said. "They had no idea of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict."
Which is precisely why they should have been impaneled. Their lack of pre-existing bias made them more likely to examine the evidence objectively. Neal's intense bias, on the other hand, closed his eyes to it.
He never should have been picked. He was an anti-Israeli activist masquerading as an otherwise disinterested citizen. Neal even claimed credit for steering jurors away from convictions. "If I hadn't been on that jury," he gloated, "this would have been a different case."
Indeed, justice based on the evidence would have been served, rather than the jury nullification based on politics that the public got.
If if weren't for the guts of browbeaten juror Williams, who stood up to say, trembling, that she disagreed with some of the acquittals being read during the verdict, the judge wouldn't have declared a mistrial. And federal prosecutors wouldn't have another shot at the terrorist defendants.
Let's hope when the feds retry this important case next year that they do a better job of challenging biased prospective jurors during the pretrial hearings.