Federal judge won't acquit convicted pirates

AP News
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Posted: Mar 11, 2011 1:25 PM
Federal judge won't acquit convicted pirates

A federal judge won't overturn the conviction of five Somali men convicted of piracy for attacking a U.S. Navy ship off Africa.

U.S. District Judge Mark Davis on Wednesday denied their attorneys' motions that the men be acquitted.

The attorneys had asked Davis to look at defense claims that the men who attacked the USS Nicholas in April didn't commit piracy because they did not board or rob the frigate.

They cited a Congressional Research Service report suggesting the 1819 definition of piracy "may restrict the ability of the government to charge individuals as pirates" as merchant vessels come under increasing attack globally.

Davis wrote that the report doesn't appear to contain any original substantive legal analysis.

"The report provides no basis for this court to reconsider its prior determination regarding the definition of piracy under the law of nations," he wrote.

The men are scheduled to be sentenced to life in prison on Monday.

At trial, defense lawyers had argued the men were innocent fishermen who had been abducted by pirates, beaten and forced into piracy. Experts testified the practice does happen.

Federal prosecutors said the five had confessed to attacking the Nicholas after mistaking it for a merchant ship. The Nicholas, based in Norfolk, was part of an international flotilla fighting piracy in the seas off Somalia.

Jurors convicted all five of 14 counts, including plundering, weapons, assault, explosives and conspiracy charges.

The last U.S. conviction for piracy was in 1819 and involved a foreign vessel. U.S. piracy law was based on that case.

The government is prosecuting a separate group of Somali defendants for an alleged April 10 attack on the USS Ashland, also off the African coast. A judge in Norfolk dismissed the piracy charge, but the government is appealing.

Oral arguments in that case are scheduled for March 25 on the definition of piracy.

Another 14 suspected pirates are scheduled to make court appearances Tuesday to determine whether they should remain in jail while awaiting trial in Norfolk. They face kidnapping, piracy and firearms charges stemming from the February hijacking of a yacht that left four Americans dead.