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3 in Paintball Case Complain About Trials

May 25, 2006

RICHMOND, Va. (AP) _ Three U.S. Muslims convicted of preparing for holy war against the United States by playing paintball games were unfairly compelled to give up their rights to a jury trial, their lawyers told a federal appeals court Thursday.

A federal prosecutor, however, argued that the three had to live with their ``tactical decision″ to entrust their fate to a judge.

``They got exactly what they wanted,″ Assistant U.S. Attorney Gordon Kromberg told a three-judge panel of the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

Masoud Khan of Gaithersburg, Md., Seifullah Chapman of Alexandria and Hammad Abdur-Raheem of Falls Church were part of what prosecutors called a ``Virginia jihad network″ that prepared to join the Taliban by playing paintball near Fredericksburg in 2000 and 2001.

The defendants _ all U.S. citizens in their 30s _ said the paintball games were innocent fun. In paintball, gun-wielding players fire capsules filled with water-based paint that break and splatter their contents.

In all, the government charged 11 men. Six entered plea bargains and two were acquitted.

Khan was convicted of the most serious charges, including conspiracy to levy war against the United States. He trained in Pakistan with a militant group that the government later designated a terrorist organization.

Lawyers for Chapman and Abdur-Raheem contend their clients and Khan should have been tried separately. Chapman’s attorney, John Zwerling, said his client was essentially forced to choose a bench trial because a jury’s post-9/11 passions might be inflamed by the more serious allegations against Khan.

``The Constitution entitles him to a fair and impartial jury,″ Zwerling said. ``He believed he was no longer able to get that.″

Khan’s attorney, Jonathan Shapiro, suggested his client may have waived his right to a jury trial because of pressure from his co-defendants.

The hearing lasted less than an hour, and the appeals court typically issues a ruling several weeks after the oral arguments. Lawyers for Chapman and Khan also are appealing their clients’ sentences. Khan was originally sentenced to life plus 65 years in prison, but that was reduced to life plus 45 years. Chapman’s 85-year sentence was reduced to 65 years.

The government is appealing Abdur-Raheem’s sentence reduction from eight years and a month to four years and four months.

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