Jurors at the trial of an alleged al-Qaida terrorist will see a model of a bomb hidden in his underwear on a Detroit-bound jetliner and videos demonstrating the power of the explosive, a judge ruled Tuesday in a key victory for prosecutors.
Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, who is charged with trying to destroy the international flight on Christmas 2009, said the demonstrations would be unfair. He is acting as his own lawyer.
U.S. District Judge Nancy Edmunds said the government has a right to present evidence that he willingly carried a bomb aboard the Northwest Airlines flight from Amsterdam. The flight had 279 passengers and 11 crew members aboard.
Edmunds also said jury selection will start next Tuesday with 80 people culled from a group of more than 200. Many were eliminated because of work, vacation, school, even a pending kidney donation, while others were excused for having strong feelings about Abdulmutallab, a 24-year-old from Nigeria.
One woman wrote that she feared "crazy relatives of the defendant waiting in the shadows," Edmunds said. "I think we'll excuse her."
At the trial, the government can display a model of the explosive discovered in Abdulmutallab's underwear, chiefly a plastic bag containing a powerful white powder known as PETN.
Investigators recovered 76 grams but say they believe he actually possessed 200 grams. The bomb didn't explode, but smoke filled the cabin, and Abdulmutallab's groin was badly burned by flames.
Prosecutors can also show video of what happens when 200 grams and 76 grams are detonated. Assistant U.S. Attorney Michael Martin said the video would corroborate the testimony of passengers and help jurors understand a complicated issue.
Abdulmutallab objected, saying it would be "very speculative" to make a link between what happened on Flight 253 and what was later demonstrated in a field. The judge, however, said an experiment in a plane actually would be very harmful to his defense.
Edmunds said prosecutors could summon witnesses who are experts on al-Qaida and martyrdom and play an al-Qaida video that shows Abdulmutallab explaining his suicide mission. Jurors won't see a clip of Osama bin Laden praising the young man as a hero.
Abdulmutallab wanted to keep it all out of the trial, including the experts.
"One who has no understanding of the Quran or who is (not) part of the organization cannot testify to what it is and what it stands for," he told the judge.
Edmunds made one final attempt to persuade Abdulmutallab to turn his defense over to court-appointed attorney Anthony Chambers, but he declined. Chambers will assist him at trial.