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NEW YORK, December 20 (Itar-Tass) — New York’s court has scheduled for December 21 a new hearing on the case of Russian businessman Viktor Bout who in early November was found guilty of conspiring to sell weapons to the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) group. The court’s spokeswoman Stephanie Cirkovich said on Monday that Judge Shira Sheindlin that handles the case will hear defence arguments about the need to repeal the verdict because of jury bias.
On November 2, a panel of 12 jurors at the US Federal Court for the Southern District of New York unanimously found Bout guilty on all four counts: conspiring to kill US nationals, conspiracy to kill US public servants, conspiracy to acquire and sell anti-aircraft missiles and conspiracy to supply weapons to terrorist groups.
In mid-November, Bout’s lawyer Albert Dayan sent a petition to Sheindlin with a request to revoke the verdict on the grounds that the jury could have a biased attitude to the defendant. Bout’s defence lawyers suspect the jury of prejudice against the Russian citizen after the jury forewoman, Heather Hobson, gave an interview to The New York Times in which she said that she had seen the movie “Lord of War” shot on the book by Douglas Farah “Merchant of Death” that is assumed to be based on Bout’s biography.
According to Dayan, it is clear that in the extension of judgement Hobson “did not separate the evidence presented at the trial from the “evidence” contained in “this terrible movie that she had seen.”
“The jury forewoman was exposed to extremely biased information about Viktor Bout. This resulted in her very negative attitude towards the defendant, which contributed to passing a guilty verdict,” it is said in the document.
Prior to the trial, Bout’s lawyers had repeatedly drawn the judge’s attention to the fact that because of public scrutiny of the case of Bout it would be difficult, if not impossible, to ensure the impartiality of the court, because the Western media and pop culture had already worked hard to create in the eye of ordinary citizen the image of Bout as an arms dealer cashing in on blood who has long become a pariah of the international community.
Before beginning the trial, while interviewing jurors, Judge Shira Sheindlin asked clear questions about whether they knew anything about the businessman and his activities. This was done in order to achieve impartiality of the jury towards Bout. That is, ideally, the jury should not have any information about the businessman. They were not asked a question about this movie, however. In addition, all the jurors gave a written undertaking not to seek information about Bout in the media, including on the Internet.
The lawyer requested to appoint a new trial or hold a court hearing at which the jurors will be asked questions about whether any information except that which was presented in the courtroom had influenced their decision. The US attorney office for its part sent a letter to the judge in which stated that the prosecution side sees no reason to revise the verdict of the jury.
Last Friday, Dayan sent to the US Federal Court for the Southern District of New York, which considers Bout’s case, another petition, in which demanded total repeal of the verdict.
Dayan argues, inter alia, that the prosecution failed to prove that Bout had a criminal intent to kill Americans. The lawyer said the prosecutors failed to provide sufficient evidence that the weapons that Bout was allegedly going to sell to the FARC, was intended for killing American pilots in Colombia. The defence lawyer also said that no connection between Bout’s actions and the United States was established, which casts doubt on the legitimacy of his prosecution in this country.
The announcement of a sentence to Bout is scheduled for February 8, 2012.