Three Albanian-born brothers serving life for plotting to kill U.S. soldiers at Fort Dix, New Jersey, insist they were barred from testifying at their 2008 terrorism trial and asked a judge Wednesday to throw out their life sentences.
Dritan "Tony" Duka, 37, said his lawyer thought he would come across as a Muslim extremist and therefore didn't prepare for him to testify.
"It shouldn't matter what I believe. It should matter whether I'm in the conspiracy or not, whether I'm involved in what the government is charging," Duka said.
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Duka and his brothers, Eljvir and Shain Duka, have lost their appeals, but argue in post-conviction petitions that they were denied the right to testify. Their trial lawyers deny the accusations and are testifying for the government Wednesday.
Dritan Duka's trial lawyer, Michael Huff, said he feared his client's desire to express religious views and his suspicion that the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks might be "an inside job, in order to persecute Muslims" would prove damaging.
"Within five words, coming out of Mr. Duka's mouth, he wanted to talk about the anti-Christ," Huff said, recalling their trial preparations. "I'm not judging those thoughts, but I would have to think about ... how a jury might perceive those beliefs.
"I think he could have done nothing but hurt himself," Huff testified.
Huff said he spoke with his client throughout the three-month trial about whether Dritan Duka should testify. However, on cross-examination, he acknowledged that he never prepared or rehearsed a script of what questions would be asked, as lawyers frequently do. He also conceded that prison visitor logs show he visited Duka only three times that fall, leaving little time for them to discuss strategy outside of the courthouse.
The Dukas were convicted with two others of plotting an attack at military sites at Fort Dix and elsewhere.
Dozens of supporters gathered in the courtroom and outside the courthouse.
A federal appeals court rejected their appeal and the U.S. Supreme Court declined to hear the case.
The case has been cited by New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, a Republican presidential candidate, as one of the two "biggest terrorism cases in the world" during his time as U.S. Attorney. But critics of the case believe an FBI informant entrapped the men and say the sentence reflects overzealous efforts to protect the country after the 2001 terrorist attacks.
The defendants' parents have been among supporters who have held regular vigils outside the federal courthouse in Camden, where they were convicted after a three-month trial and six days of deliberations.
U.S. District Judge Robert B. Kugler, who presided at trial, is hearing the Dukas' claims of ineffective counsel.