Terror Prosecution Could Give Detroit's US Attorney's Office Chance To Redeem Itself

Terror Trial Courtroom Sketch Detroit Convertino (ap)

All eyes will be on Detroit when federal prosecutors try the Nigerian man who tried to blow up a Northwest flight on Christmas. 

The prosecutors of the Eastern District of Michigan may welcome the opportunity to redeem themselves after a disastrous high-profile terror case in 2003.

Assistant U.S. Attorneys there were overzealous in prosecuting terror defendants accused of being part of a “sleeper cell,” resulting in the Justice Department asking for the charges to be thrown out after two men had already been convicted. 

NYT (October 2004): In a long court filing, the government discredited its own witnesses and found fault with virtually every part of its prosecution.

The blame, the department suggested in its filing, lay mainly at the feet of the lead prosecutor in Detroit, Richard G. Convertino, whom it portrayed as a rogue lawyer. But documents and interviews with people knowledgeable about the case show that top officials at the Justice Department were involved in almost every step of the prosecution, from formulating strategy to editing the draft indictments to planning how the suspects would be incarcerated.

Convertino resigned from the Department of Justice in 2005, facing allegations of misconduct in prosecuting the cases. (Pictured is a courtroom sketch during the 2003 trial.)

He was later indicted for obstructing justice and hiding evidence, but a jury cleared him of all charges. He is currently suing the DOJ on invasion of privacy claims and is trying to discover who leaked the news of what was to be an internal investigation into the prosecution. 

As we mentioned earlier, this case, with dozens of eye witnesses of the attempted crime, will be significantly less complicated than piecing together the ins and outs of a terrorist cell, so we are talking about two very different animals.

But with national attention on the Eastern District of Michigan’s prosecutor’s office once again, they will likely do everything possible to present a flawless case.  

Terrance Berg, the current U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Michigan, has held the position since 2008.  In 2003, he was the director of U.S. Attorney’s Office’s computer crimes program. 

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