MANHATTAN (CN) – The defense in the upcoming Chelsea bombings trial successfully lobbied Tuesday to have evidence of the suspect’s shootout with police and subsequent arrest kept from the jury’s ears.
At Tuesday’s hearing, U.S. District Judge Richard Berman ruled that evidence from Ahmad Khan Rahimi’s shootout, flight from New Jersey Police and arrest in Linden, New Jersey, cannot be used as evidence at trial over homemade bombs planted on 23rd Street and 27th Street in Manhattan’s Chelsea neighborhood.
Berman reminded the parties that there is an ongoing separate trial in New Jersey’s Union County Superior Court on attempted murder charges stemming from the shootout outside Merdie’s Tavern that resulted in Rahimi’s arrest this past September.
Berman called the evidence from the shootout and arrest “unduly prejudicial” in light of the Chelsea bombing charges.
Federal prosecutors argued the shootout was an intentional third and final part of a three-phase plan that began with the New York bombs, followed by bombs in New Jersey and concluding with a shootout planned to “kill as many officers as possible in the process.”
Assistant U.S. Attorney Emil Bove cited a “letter” penned by Rahimi detailing those intended phases, while defense attorney Sabrina Shroff argued that the writing was a notebook, not a letter.
Berman called it a “journal” when he ruled it admissible as evidence.
The judge read a brief scattered and misspelled segment of the journal that included references to slaughtered Mujahideen, “blood in the streets” and “Brother Osama Bin Laden.”
Berman also said any discussion of potential punishment, particularly mandatory minimums, cannot be discussed in front of the jury. Three of Rahimi’s charges in this case carry maximum sentences of life in prison.
However, Berman cleared an abundance of other evidence including images of Dabiq, the Islamic State’s propaganda and recruitment online magazine, and jihad-themed “nasheed” music videos found on Rahimi’s computer.
Berman also ruled cellphone videos purportedly showing Rahimi testing out bombs in a New Jersey backyard admissible as evidence showing motive, intent and preparation.
Prosecutors acknowledged they did not plan to use contested evidence related to a confession recording or DNA evidence obtained without first notifying defense counsel.
Appearing in court today in jail-issued garb and full beard, Rahimi looked tired and nonplussed for most of the hearing, even when Berman played a non-evidentiary voicemail recording of a woman named “Ashley.” The woman called the judge’s chambers to take credit for the bombings, clear Rahimi’s name and repeatedly demanded he be let go. The frantic-sounding woman said she used “infinity light” to cause the bombings “because bullies raped me.”
In May, Berman denied Rahimi’s request for a change of venue, ruling from his bench that his “court has little or no doubt that a fair and impartial jury can be found in this case and that the defendant Rahimi will receive a fair trial.”
Rahimi’s federal trial in Manhattan is set to begin Oct. 2, a little more than a year after a series of nonlethal explosions in New York and New Jersey sparked panic in both states.
Prosecutors charged Rahimi this past November in an eight-count indictment related to his alleged detonation and attempted detonation of improvised explosive bombs in New York on Sept. 17, 2016.
The indictment includes counts of using a weapon of mass destruction; attempting to use a weapon of mass destruction; bombing a place of public use; destroying property by means of fire or explosive; interstate transportation and receipt of explosives; and two counts of using of a destructive device in furtherance of a crime of violence, namely, the use and attempted use of weapons of mass destruction.