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Judge Rules US Has Jurisdiction in Somali Pirate Case

Somali pirates killed a Marina del Rey couple and their two friends in 2011.

The U.S. has jurisdiction to continue prosecuting Somali pirates in the murder of Marina del Rey couple Jean and Scott Adam, a federal judge ruled on Friday.

The couple and their friends, Bob Riggle and Phyllis Macay of Seattle, were murdered 40 miles off the coast of Somalia in February 2011 aboard their yacht, the Quest. 

Defense attorneys in October argued that the pirates who allegedly killed the Americans were within Somalian waters and therefore outside U.S jurisdiction. Lawyers contended that Somali waters extended 200 nautical miles off the coast, according to Somali law.

However, prosecutors noted that Somalia ratified the United Nations Law of the Sea Treaty, that extends a country’s border only to 12 nautical miles from its shore.

“The defendants' argument is contrary to international law, contrary to Somalia law, contrary to United States law, and inconsistent with the international battle against Somali piracy that has been waged for the last several years,” prosecutors wrote in court documents.

Five countries that signed the U.N treaty claim a 200 nautical mile jurisdiction, including Ecuador, El Salvador, Peru, Somalia and Benin.

Chief Judge Rebecca Beach Smith of the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia sided with the prosecution, concluding that the U.S. can legally pursue the accused pirates.

Last week, Judge Smith also denied a request to move the trial to another district and possibly another state. Defense lawyers argued that the jury in Norfolk, Va., which has  a heavy military presence, may be bias against the defendants. 

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