CAMDEN, N.J. (AP) — Three Albanian-born brothers serving life for plotting to kill U.S. soldiers at Fort Dix, New Jersey, insisted they were barred from testifying at their 2008 terrorism trial and asked a judge Wednesday to throw out their life sentences.
Dritan "Tony" Duka, 37, said his lawyer thought he would come across as a Muslim extremist and therefore didn't put him on the stand.
"It shouldn't matter what I believe. It should matter whether I'm in the conspiracy or not, whether I'm involved in what the government is charging," Duka said.
Duka and his brothers, Eljvir and Shain Duka, have lost their appeals, but argued in ineffective counsel petitions that they were denied the right to testify. Their trial lawyers deny the accusations and testified for the government Wednesday.
Dritan Duka's trial lawyer, Michael Huff, said he feared his client's desire to express religious views and his suspicion that the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks might be "an inside job, in order to persecute Muslims" would prove damaging.
"Within five words, coming out of Mr. Duka's mouth, he wanted to talk about the anti-Christ," Huff said, recalling their trial preparations. "I'm not judging those thoughts, but I would have to think about ... how a jury might perceive those beliefs.
"I think he could have done nothing but hurt himself," Huff testified.
Huff, along with fellow trial lawyers Troy Archie and Michael Riley, said they worked vigorously on the case and were prepared to put their clients on the stand if it came to that.
The Dukas were convicted with two others of plotting an attack at military sites at Fort Dix and elsewhere.
The defendants' parents have been among supporters who have held regular vigils outside the federal courthouse in Camden, and dozens of relatives and supporters attended the hearing.
The case has been cited by New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, a Republican presidential candidate, as one of the two "biggest terrorism cases in the world" during his time as U.S. Attorney. But critics believe an FBI informant entrapped the men and say the sentence reflects overzealous efforts to protect the country after the 2001 terrorist attacks.
U.S. District Judge Robert B. Kugler, who presided at trial, will rule after reviewing written briefs due next month. The petitions could be the Ducas' last chance of being spared the life sentences as they exhausted their appeals when the U.S. Supreme Court declined to hear their case. They have been in prison since May 2007.
The men were charged in 2007 with conspiring to kill U.S. military personnel at Fort Dix. (A sixth was charged with weapons offenses.) Authorities had been alerted initially after a store clerk saw a video of the men shooting guns at a firing range and yelling "Allahu Akbar," or "God is great." Jurors heard hours of secretly recorded audio that included one defendant saying how they could "kill at least 100 soldiers by using rocket-propelled grenades."
Defense attorneys at trial claimed the men may have made anti-American statements but had no plans to attack anything until paid informant Mahmoud Omar infiltrated the group and spent months goading and manipulating them.