Defense attorneys shouted objections and asked for a mistrial. But their complaints didn't stop the government's controversial expert witness from making his point to the jury on Tuesday.
The seven men on trial in Miami federal court, charged with supporting al-Qaida, fit the mold of homegrown terrorists, said Raymond Tanter, a terrorism professor at Georgetown University in Washington, D.C.
Prosecutor Allyson Fritz ticked off the defendants' names, one by one: Narseal Batiste, Stanley Phanor, Naudimar Herrera, Rothschild Augustin, Burson Augustin, Lyglenson Lemorin and Patrick Abraham.
Where, Fritz asked, did each man fall among the four stages law enforcement agencies use to describe how ordinary people become terrorists?
Each time, Tanter responded with the name of the final phase in that process, a stage he labeled "jihadization."
Prosecutors accuse the defendants, who worked in the construction business and hung out in a Liberty City warehouse, of trying to join forces with al-Qaida in various plots, including blowing up the Sears Tower in Chicago and FBI headquarters in North Miami Beach. The trial is in its fifth week.
Tanter's testimony lasted just over one hour. Cross-examination by defense lawyers begins this morning.
Midway through his direct testimony, defense attorneys asked for a mistrial, saying one of his responses came too close to telling jurors they should find the defendants guilty.
"His testimony has totally polluted this panel," said Albert Levin, who represents Abraham.
U.S. District Judge Joan Lenard denied the motion.
Tanter's brief testimony sparked other disputes. When Fritz asked about a loyalty oath to al-Qaida the defendants recited, their lawyers voiced a chorus of objections.
"With all due respect, I think the witness can give his opinion [on] what it means to take an oath to a terrorist organization," Fritz said.
Lenard allowed Tanter to answer.
"Taking an oath is a manner in which al-Qaida binds individuals to that organization," he said.
Tanter, who worked for the National Security Council in the early 1980s, is being paid $1,000 for his court testimony, plus roughly $85 an hour for his preparation, he said.
According to defense lawyers, who tried to prevent Tanter from taking the stand, his testimony marks the first time the four-step radicalization process has been presented as evidence in a U.S. terrorism trial.
The theory suggests most would-be terrorists start off as ordinary men seeking belonging and a sense of purpose.
Kathleen Puckett, a clinical psychologist and former FBI agent, said she refers to the last stage as "the true believer" phase, not "jihadization."
Vanessa Blum can be reached at email@example.com or 954-356-4605.