WASHINGTON (AP) — The Justice Department said Wednesday it plans to retry an alleged Somali pirate for hostage-taking, after a jury deadlocked on those charges last week.
The government announced its decision at a hearing Wednesday in the case of Ali Mohamed Ali. His lawyer, Matthew J. Peed, told U.S. District Court Judge Ellen Huvelle that Ali objected to a retrial and will a file a motion with the court seeking to prevent one.
Ali, 51, was previously acquitted of piracy, meaning the government couldn't attempt to retry him on that more serious charge.
Peed said at Wednesday's hearing that he will argue double jeopardy precludes retrying Ali, citing a 2009 U.S. Supreme Court decision, Yeager v. U.S. In that ruling, the high court said that if the charges all rely on the same basic facts, the defendant's acquittal on some charges "protects him from prosecution for any charge for which that is an essential element."
Huvelle set a deadline of Jan. 6 for the motion opposing a new trial on double jeopardy grounds.
Peed also asked that Ali be released in the meantime. Huvelle didn't rule on that request from the bench, but she noted that she had released Ali twice before his trial, only to be overturned by the Court of Appeals. In the second such ruling, about three months ago, Huvelle concluded that the lengthy pretrial lockup violated his constitutional rights. She also said Wednesday that the motion opposing a retrial will delay the new trial.
Ali has been in custody since April 2011. Huvelle set a motions hearing date for March 10, meaning that if he's not released before then, he will likely be locked up for at least three years without being convicted of a crime.
Huvelle questioned the government's decision to retry Ali.
"What's your chances of getting another hung jury? High," she said. The judge added that the evidence in the case could be read in different ways.
Ali negotiated a ransom for Somali pirates during a 2008 pirate takeover of a Danish merchant ship in the Gulf of Aden. At the time of his 2011 arrest, he was the education minister in Somaliland, a breakaway region of Somalia, but he has spent most of his adult life in the United States.
Pirates seized the M/V CEC Future in November 2008, and Ali boarded the boat a couple of days later. An English speaker, he communicated the demands of the pirates with officials from Clipper Group, the ship's owner. The pirates initially demanded a $7 million ransom, but settled for $1.7 million at the end of the more than two-month siege.
The key issue in the trial was whether Ali was an advocate for the pirates or just a translator doing the best he could in a situation not of his own making.
Jurors began deliberating in the case Nov. 20, and acquitted Ali of piracy on Nov. 26. They said at the time they were deadlocked on the other charges — and remained so more than two weeks later.
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