A defense lawyer for Lynne F. Stewart, a lawyer accused of aiding Egyptian terrorists, told a federal jury today that prosecutors had failed to present any evidence that she knew about a conspiracy among terrorists in Egypt, or even that a conspiracy existed.
The lawyer, Michael E. Tigar, asserted that prosecutors had instead engaged in a “cynical effort to target and destroy the career” of Ms. Stewart, whom he called “a courageous, brash and feisty” lawyer.
On the first day of his closing arguments, Mr. Tigar brought an afternoon of high legal oratory to the courtroom in Federal District Court in Manhattan. It was filled to overflowing with family, friends and clients of Ms. Stewart as well as allies from her leftist causes.
Numerous lawyers attended as well to watch the final days of a trial that is seen as a sobering warning to lawyers nationwide about the government’s harder line in terrorism cases since the Sept. 11 attacks.
It was the moment that Mr. Tigar has been awaiting for many months, in a trial that began June 22. Almost all of the government’s evidence has consisted of transcripts taken from more than 85,000 telephone and fax calls secretly recorded by the F.B.I. Prosecutors spent week after week reading out the transcripts, and there were few witnesses for Mr. Tigar and other defense lawyers to cross-examine.
Mr. Tigar emphasized to the jury that they could not convict Ms. Stewart of the charges including conspiracy to provide and conceal aid to terrorism if they have a reasonable doubt she is guilty. Conspiracy “is not like falling into a manhole in the street,” he said, noting that prosecutors must show that Ms. Stewart had full knowledge of any conspiracy she is said to have joined.
But, Mr. Tigar noted, the government did not present any witnesses who had firsthand knowledge of the murky debates among Islamic militants in Egypt that are at the center of the case. Ms. Stewart is accused of aiding a convicted terrorist client, Sheik Omar Abdel Rahman, by smuggling a message of violence out of his prison to those militants.
“Ninety thousand phone calls, folks, and not a one that supports the idea that she was aware of any such conspiracy, if one existed,” Mr. Tigar said.
Mr. Tigar also said the government had failed to show that Ms. Stewart acted in bad faith when she issued a statement in June 2000 in which the sheik withdrew his support for a cease-fire by his group in Egypt. Special prison rules barred her from helping the sheik communicate with the news media. Mr. Tigar said she had a “good faith disagreement” with the government over the meaning of the rules.
He said Ms. Stewart did not attempt to conceal her actions except when she had confidential conversations with the sheik, her client. “What Lynne Stewart did was done in the light of day, with the exception of those things that the law says lawyers are entitled to keep secret,” Mr. Tigar said.