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Lawyer: Trump comments could bias jurors in terrorism case

December 31, 2015

Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump's call for a ban on Muslim immigration into the United States will make it difficult to find unbiased jurors for the trial of a man accused of supporting al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula, the man's lawyer is arguing in court papers.

Minh Quang Pham is expected to go on trial in federal court in Manhattan in February. The Vietnamese man has pleaded not guilty to supporting al-Qaida.

But Pham's attorney is asking a judge to allow additional questioning of potential jurors, arguing that recent terrorist attacks in the U.S. and Paris and Trump's statements calling for a ban on Muslim immigration into the U.S. will make it difficult to find unbiased prospects.

"His statements have become a rallying cry inciting public fear of Muslims and the desire to ostracize and marginalize the followers of Islam," attorney Bobbi Sternheim said of Trump in court papers. "The defense believes that it will be difficult, if not impossible, to seat a truly impartial New York City jury in the current climate of Islamophobia and hatred of Muslims."

Sternheim is asking the judge to allow lawyers in the case to conduct additional questioning of prospective jurors to help in "rooting out prejudice and bias" among the jury pool. Typically, defense attorneys and prosecutors propose questions to the judge, who handles the questioning.

Representatives for Trump and the U.S. attorney's office did not immediately respond Wednesday evening to messages seeking comment.

Authorities allege Pham traveled from the United Kingdom to Yemen in 2010 and received training from the extremist group. Pham was arrested at Heathrow International Airport when he returned in July 2011 from a six-month trip to Yemen, where prosecutors say he pledged his support to high-level members of al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula and vowed to fight jihad.

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