Liberty City Seven Denied A New Trial Despite Juror Shenanigans

Next time someone argues that justice is the end result after a trip through American courts, here's the only rebuttal you need: "Liberty City Seven." The informants were money-extorting, wife-beating lowlifes. Bush-era, terrorism-obsessed cronies hyped it. And after two straight juries deadlocked on whether seven poor dudes in Liberty City really wanted to blow up the Sears Tower, a federal judge just kicked out the juror holding up try number three.

None of those factors are enough to warrant a re-trial, apparently. A federal court has denied the appeal of the five men eventually convicted in the case.

The appeal hinged on whether U.S. Judge Joan Lenard erred by tossing off a juror, known only as Juror No. 4, who refused to further deliberate the case in 2009.

Lenard knew that if the jury deadlocked a third time, the case would die; prosecutors had already said they wouldn't try it a third time. But with Juror No. 4 gone, an alternate agreed with the other 11 members and finally convicted the group.

The 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Atlanta says today that it "cannot say that the district court clearly erred in finding that Juror No. 4 was not willing to follow the court's instructions."

Lenard's jury cherry picking was just the last and most laughable move in the men's trial. When they were arrested in 2006, then-Attorney General John Ashcroft lauded their case as victory against terrorism. The small religious sect of poor Haitian-Americans, led by Narseal Baptiste, had admitting to plotting to blow up Chicago's most iconic building.

But even government officials admitted the group had zero actual ability to carry out such a plot. And New Times convincingly deconstructed the case as a "Bush-era sham" more about a greedy religious leader trying to wring $50,000 out of a pair of shady informants than terrorism.

Nonetheless, Baptiste and four other defendants -- Patrick Abraham, Stanley Phanor, Rotschild Augustin and Burson Augustin -- will each spend a decade or so in federal lockup thanks to today's appeals' ruling.

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Tim Elfrink is a former investigative reporter and managing editor for Miami New Times. He has won the George Polk Award and was a finalist for the Goldsmith Prize for Investigative Reporting.
Contact: Tim Elfrink