Judge Denies Pirates’ Requests to Move Trial

The pirates were involved in the boat hijacking and murder of a Marina del Rey couple.

A federal judge denied a request to move the trail out of Virginia in the case against Somali pirates accused of murdering Jean and Scott Adam of Marina del Rey off the coast of Somalia.

The pirates’ defense attorneys argued that the jury in the trail may be too bias, as the Norfolk, Va. area where the proceedings are being held, has a large U.S. military presence, according to a court document filed on Nov. 21.

The charges stem from the February 2011 hijacking of the Quest, the Adam’s yacht off the Somalian coast. The pirates then killed the Marina del Rey couple along with their friends Bob Riggle and Phyllis Macay of Seattle. 

The attorneys were seeking either an out-of-state transfer or to another division within the Eastern District of Virginia stating that Norfolk “reflects constitutionally intolerable levels of knowledge about piracy and bias toward the defendants.”

And the “pretrial publicity has tainted the jury pool,” the defense attorney state.

The attorneys also declare that an upcoming movie filmed in Virginia featuring Navy SEALs and Tom Hanks as the captain of a merchant ship that is taken hostage by Somali pirates contributes to the negative publicity and is another reason to move the court venue.

Chief U.S. District Judge Rebecca Beach Smith wrote last week that the trial’s transfer is unjustified because there have been no cases of non-factual reporting in the case and the upcoming release of the Tom Hanks movie is not a compelling argument in changing the location of the trial.

“The defendants' arguments are unpersuasive. Even if the movie does have the potential to create prejudice, a point which the government does not concede, and the court does not assume to be true, it would presumably create prejudice in any market where it is released," Smith wrote.

In October, defense attorneys argued that the pirates were within Somali territorial waters, and not international waters and therefore outside the jurisdiction of U.S. criminal law. 

“The United States does not have prescriptive jurisdiction over foreign nationals for murder and firearm offenses committed in the territorial waters of a foreign sovereign,” defense attorneys wrote.

If convicted, the Somali pirates could face the death penalty. 

The defense attorneys in September also tried to block prosecutors from seeking the death penalty, arguing that it is unconstitutional on the basis that it is imposed infrequently and arbitrarily in federal cases. And that judicial death sentencing is prejudiced, as the majority of people the government executed have been minorities, according to court records.

The judge also dismissed that motion. 


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