NEW YORK (AP) — The trial of a man charged in a bombing rampage through New Jersey and New York will occur in Manhattan after a judge on Monday rejected a request by defense lawyers to move it to Vermont or Washington, D.C., on the grounds prejudicial publicity will have less effect on potential jurors there.
U.S. District Judge Richard M. Berman said impartial jurors can be found for the October trial of Ahmad Khan Rahimi in a district of 5.2 million people that includes Manhattan, the Bronx and three suburban counties north of New York City.
"The population is vastly sufficient in my opinion to seat a fair and impartial jury," the judge said in an opinion delivered from the bench.
He cited numerous instances over the past quarter-century when similar requests were rejected by other federal judges in New York and elsewhere, including for trials stemming from the 1993 World Trade Center bombing, which he noted occurred a few blocks from the courthouse.
He also supported his conclusion by quoting often from an April decision by New Jersey Superior Court Judge Karen M. Cassidy, who refused to order a change in venue for Rahimi on charges brought against him in New Jersey. She said most of the news coverage of Rahimi has been national in scope and would follow him wherever a trial would occur. Cassidy and Berman both noted that trial coverage had dropped off significantly since November.
Rahimi, an Afghanistan-born U.S. citizen who lived with his family in Elizabeth, New Jersey, is charged with detonating a pipe bomb along a charity race in Seaside Park, New Jersey, and planting two pressure cooker bombs in Manhattan on Sept. 17.
One device did not explode. The other one detonated in Manhattan's Chelsea neighborhood, injuring 30 people.
Rahimi was shot by law enforcement authorities as he was arrested two days after the attacks. He has pleaded not guilty and is detained without bail.
Meanwhile, the New York judge also rejected a request by prosecutors that he consider Rahimi's competency to stand trial.
The request, in a sealed document two weeks ago that was unsealed Monday, was criticized by assistant federal defender Sabrina Shroff. She said the request came after defense lawyers said Rahimi's mental and physical health should be taken into consideration as prosecutors consider the merits of letting Rahimi plead to charges in a deal.
In a letter to Berman, defense lawyers said prosecutors had unfairly used the plea negotiations to question Rahimi's competency. The lawyers said prosecutors were told that any plea offer should reflect his mental and physical health, including that he was shot 11 times and has been left with limited life longevity, brain injuries and/or post-traumatic stress disorder.