After three years of legal wrangling, the trial of two of the would-be J.F.K. bombers began just after 3 p.m. Wednesday.
You could be forgiven if the details of their case don’t spring to mind; since they were arrested, greater acts of domestic terorrism, planned and realized, have competed for the country’s attention. Moreover, the four men accused of plotting to blow up the fuel pipeline at J.F.K. airport—a pipeline that also runs under highly populated areas of New York—don’t even have a nickname, like the shoe bomber or the underwear bomber.
All the same, the courtroom was packed with law students Wednesday for the opening of the trial, and The Observer was with them, occasionally glacing over to notice the bawdy iPhone missives they sent during the proceedings.
As the defendants took their seats, the entire room strained to look. Russell Defreitas—a “poor, lonely bitter old man,” according to his lawyer—wore a cream-colored sweatshirt and appeared exhausted, remaining slumped over for most of the afternoon. To his right, the much younger-looking Abdul Kadir wore a salmon pink shirt and studiously wrote on a pad in front of him as the opening statements were read. The two men are facing life imprisonment if convicted.
In her opening statement, Assistant U.S. Attorney Berit Berger accused Defreitas of hatching “a plan to teach America a lesson” in his attempt to blow up the oil pipeline, and a few hangars, at the airport. Defreitas is on record as saying, “Anytime you hit Kennedy, it’s the most hurtful thing to the United States. … If you hit that, this whole country will be in mourning. It’s like you kill the man twice.” He and Kadir dubbed their operation “Shining Light” for the explosions they believed would occur over Queens, where the fuel lines lead.
The men’s arrests stem largely from the undercover work of Steven Francis, a convict who was planted in the operation by the F.B.I. in order to cut down his life sentence. In his opening statement, Defreitas’ attorney, Len Kamdang, argued that Francis had created the circumstances for his client to act, thereby shouldering most of the responsibility for the terrorist plot. “Without the government, Russell Defreitas was nothing,” Kamdang said.
It was a government employee who drove Defreitas to J.F.K., and once there handed him the camera that would be used for spying on the airport. When Defreitas revealed he could not operate the device, Francis himself turned on the camcorder.
“Russell Defreitas is many unpleasant things, but he is not a terrorist,” Kamdang said.
Toni Messina, representing Kadir, asked the jurors to be aware that they were “sitting in the shadow of the World Trade Center,” and to separate their emotions in that case from this one.
Her dangling red earrings swayed as she paced back and forth before the jury, also questioning Francis’ character. She brought up his two drug convictions and urged that the jury take his testimony with a grain of salt, stating that the government had invested so much capital into their investigation that “they had to come up with something.”
The trial is expected to continue through the summer.