Indiana’s Court of Appeals has overturned a man’s battery conviction after finding that a prosecutor committed misconduct by linking him during his trial to the Islamic State terror group.
Moussa Dahab, 53, was convicted last year of battery with a deadly weapon for allegedly hitting another man in the head with a metal pipe during a workplace dispute at a northern Indiana factory.
Court records show that Elkhart County Deputy Prosecutor Jennifer Munro told jurors that Dahab invoked the Islamic State group’s name after the January 2015 attack, possibly because he believed it would intimidate the other man, who is an Iraqi refugee.
In Tuesday’s 2-1 opinion overturning Dahab’s conviction, the appellee court panel concluded that Munro’s eventual 17 references to the group during the trial were improper and likely to cause unfair prejudice among jurors, the South Bend Tribune reported.
Judge Michael Barnes wrote for the majority that “gratuitously linking a person of Middle Eastern descent to a terrorist organization — ISIS — is both unfair and uncalled for.”
Messages seeking comment were not returned Friday’s by Elkhart County’s prosecutor, the newspaper reported.
Court records show that in her closing remarks at the May 2017 trial, Munro raised the question of whether Dahab was an Islamic State member.
“Was he part of ISIS? Who knows,” Munro said.
Aside from the Islamic State references, the majority of the appellate panel ruled that the prosecution offered improper evidence that Dahab had been ordered by a civil court to pay the man’s medical bills prior to the criminal trial, inviting jurors to use that information as evidence of guilt.
Taken together, the references to Islamic State and Dahab’s payment of the medical bills amounted to an “evidentiary harpoon” meant to deny the defendant a fair trial, the majority concluded.
Judge Melissa May concurred with Barnes. But Judge Cale Bradford dissented, writing that the trial record did not support the serious charge of prosecutor misconduct. He noted that Dahab’s attorney did not object to the Islamic State references or the evidence of medical payments, and the presiding judge did not prohibit the evidence.
Dahab was sentenced to a year of work release and two years’ probation. He completed his work release term in January, court records show.