“Minnesota men” appeal their convictions

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The three “Minnesota men” who were convicted after a three-week trial in federal court in Minneapolis appealed their convictions to the United States Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit. I covered the trial every day on Power Line and following the convictions in the Weekly Standard article “‘Minnesota men’ on trial.”

The Eighth Circuit heard oral argument in the appeals this past Thursday morning before a three-judge panel including Judges Loken, Gruender and Erickson. Stephen Montemayor covered the oral argument here for the Star Tribune. The Eighth Circuit has posted audio of the oral argument oral argument posted online here (60 minutes).

The argument was scheduled in one of the Eighth Circuit courtrooms in the Minneapolis federal courthouse where the case was tried. During trial, Somali and other supporters of the defendants held protests against the charges outside the courthouse and packed the courtroom. On appeal, Somali supporters of the defendants resumed their position outside (at right).

Listening to the oral argument, I don’t think any of the defendants challenged the sufficiency of the evidence or adequacy of the jury instructions to support their convictions on the charge of conspiring and attempting to provide material support to a foreign terrorist organization. (One defendant raises an issue on appeal regarding his counsel at trial.) Local supporters of the defendants nevertheless deem law enforcement, the law, the charges and the convictions unjust.

The three defendants appealing their convictions challenge one prong of the jury instruction on conspiracy to commit murder overseas. Judge Loken seems to agree with the defendants’ argument on this point. Even assuming the jury instruction was inadequate, however, I think it was harmless error. The evidence introduced at trial overwhelmingly supported the proposition that these guys wanted to join ISIS to wage jihad and kill infidels. They thrilled to the notion. Murder is precisely what drove their travel plans.

Assistant United States Attorney John Docherty makes this point at 48:00 to 50:00 of the oral argument. “There’s not a scrap of evidence that the defendants were going to Syria to do anything but kill for ISIL,” Docherty argued, “just as what some defendants who did make it over there wound up doing.” That is indeed the case.

No one showed up outside the courthouse to support law enforcement. Only the local Somali champions of our convicted ISIS wannabes turned out to demonstrate their support. We have a problem here hiding in plain sight.

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