Jurors in the trial of Ahmad Khan Rahimi for allegedly planting two bombs in Chelsea last Sept. 17 said they were “near consensus” after just over two hours of deliberation in Manhattan federal court on Friday but asked to return on Monday for further discussions before announcing a verdict.
The panel started deliberating at 3 p.m. after Rahimi’s defense lawyer in summation barely contested his responsibility for a bomb that injured 30 when it blew up on West 23rd Street in Manhattan, but argued prosecutors never proved he intended to detonate a second bomb on West 27th that didn’t go off.
The argument from defense lawyer Sabrina Shroff hadn’t come up in opening statements and appeared to catch prosecutors by surprise. If successful, it would spare Rahimi a mandatory life sentence, although U.S. District Judge Richard Berman could still impose a sentence up to life.
“Your common sense tells you this is a man who knows how to detonate a bomb,” Shroff told the jury. “If he wanted to detonate a bomb on 27th Street he would have.”
Rahimi, 29, an Afghan-American from Elizabeth, New Jersey, was charged in an 8-count indictment last year with planting the two pressure-cooker bombs in Manhattan because of jihadi sentiments. He is also charged in New Jersey with leaving bombs there, but isn’t accused of causing any deaths.
The bomb on West 27th was left inside a suitcase. Surveillance videos played by the government showed that two men found it, removed the pressure cooker without apparently knowing it was a bomb, and left it on the sidewalk while taking the suitcase.
A resident noticed it after the West 23rd bomb went off at 8:30 p.m. and called police. Prosecutors contend that a timer on the cellphone attached to trigger the West 27th bomb was set for 9 p.m., but it didn’t go off because the two men must have dislodged the wires. Police defused it after 9 p.m.
Shroff, however, argued there was no evidence wires were dislodged — an NYPD bomb expert testified that the wire running from the phone to the sealed pressure cooker was intact — and said the conclusion that an alarm was set for 9 p.m. was based an unreliable FBI software program.
She said there was no evidence Rahimi tried to call the phone to trigger a detonation when the second bomb didn’t go off at 9 p.m., and hinted that the 8:30 explosion on West 23rd may have either accomplished Rahimi’s goals or given him second thoughts about what he was doing.
“After he heard that sound on 23rd Street, no one can dispute that there were no more explosions,” she argued.
In his rebuttal, prosecutor Andrew DeFilippis called the argument a “cover story.”
“This was not cold feet,” he said. “This was a cold and calculated attack . . . If the defendant didn’t want to kill people, he could have done any number of things. He could have taken that bomb with him. He could have called 911.”
During the 21/2-week trial, prosecutors showed jurors bombmaking instructions from Rahimi’s laptop, evidence that he purchased materials, DNA and fingerprints linking him to the bombs, and a notebook expressing animosity toward the United States.
Jurors are scheduled to resume deliberations at 9:15 on Monday.