BURLINGTON, Vt. (AP) — A Bosnian native immigrated to Vermont after committing war crimes during his home country's civil war and then lied to authorities when he applied for U.S. citizenship years later, according to federal prosecutors.
A jury deliberated until about 8 p.m. Thursday in the case of Edin Sakoc, who prosecutors said raped an Orthodox Christian woman and aided in the killings of two elderly women in her Bosnian Serb family in July 1992.
Sakoc, a Bosnian Muslim who arrived in the United States in 2001, is charged with lying about his role in the crimes in the town of Pocitelj when he applied for citizenship in 2007.
Defense Attorney Steven Barth said the crimes were committed by a powerful Bosnian Croat army commander and Sakoc couldn't be held accountable for the actions of another, even though he was aware of the killings after they took place.
"Mr. Sakoc never raped anyone, never murdered anyone, he never lied," Barth said during closing arguments Thursday, urging the jurors to remember that to convict him they had to find prosecutors proved their case beyond a reasonable doubt.
Sakoc's attorneys claimed the witnesses' stories were inconsistent and the alleged rape victim repeatedly changed her story over the years about whether she was assaulted.
"The evidence is overwhelming he committed a number of crimes that night," said Jay Bauer, an assistant U.S. Attorney with the Justice Department's Human Rights and Special Prosecutions Section.
"You can't come here and build a new life on a foundation of lies," Bauer said.
If convicted, Sakoc, 55, could be stripped of his U.S. citizenship and deported.
After about an hour of deliberations, the jury asked to rehear a recording of testimony that was played during the two-week trial. In the recording Sakoc is heard telling U.S. immigration authorities that he was present the night the two women were killed and denying involvement in the killings.
Many Bosnian refugees have been settled in the Burlington area. On Thursday about two dozen of Sakoc's supporters were in the courtroom and waited with him for the verdict in the hallway outside.
Sakoc has been free pending the outcome of the trial.