On a freezing December afternoon on Friday 13th at about 12:30 pm the jury announced their verdict against Richard Ammar Chichakli. Chichakli was found guilty on all nine counts. One count of conspiring to violate international sanctions, one count of conspiring to commit money laundering, one count of conspiring to commit wire fraud and six counts of wire fraud. Richard Chichakli will be sentenced on March 14th, 2014.
Since I was unable to be in the courtroom during the reading of the verdict, I relied on information directly from Chichakli. Here is what he wrote me:
Good day George
Thank you for your message, and here’s the update
The decision was rendered about 12:30, and it is all as expected; guilty on all counts.
In a letter to judge Pauley dated to December 11th 2013, Chichakli filed a motion of mistrial to the judge based on emails of at least two jurors complaining about him and dragging the trial out as long as he could. Chichakli mentioned that the prosecutors presented over 600 slides in three separate presentations in addition to the slides I counted seventeen witness’ presented by the government during the trial. I understand the legal angle that the burden of the proof is on the prosecution. However, isn’t it is a reasonable assertion that if there are many witness’ then there could potentially be a lot of cross-examination? Apparently the jury didn’t see it that way and solely blamed Chichakli.
[Read the motion here: Richard Chichakli’s Motion to Declare Mistrial]
Chichakli in another email to me elaborated and gave some insight into exactly what was said by some of the jurors. As well as pointing out that juror number 10 whom was also elected the jury foreman, stated that the trial must end by Friday because his income would be negatively impacted. That turned out to be the exact day that the guilty verdict was rendered against Chichakli. Here is what Chichakli wrote me:
Everything we have seen was leading to the conclusion that was received, that’s why it was no surprise at all.
It was difficult to operate with the court refusal of admitting evidence, the refusal to allow testimony from witnesses we needed, the unbalanced prejudicial latitude favoring the prosecution, and finally the acceptance of the juries prejudice against the defendant.
I think until receiving copy of that e-mail which was sent to the judge by jurors number 9 and number 10, I; for some reason, start feeling as if there was a chance for justice. Then, the jury email stating:
“There is serious discontent in the jury room concerning the longer than expected trial, saying the defendant trying to drag the case as long as he could while everyone else is suffering”
The reasons this email was signal of prejudice and cause for mistrial is due to:
1-The discontent in the jury room means that the jurors were discussing the case; this is a violation of the court instruction
2-The jury; collectively, are blaming the defendant alone while accepting the 792-slides presented by the gov over 5 days
3-The jury have obviously made a decision already evident by saying “The defendant is dragging the case”
4-The jury expressed that they are suffering; whatever that means, retaliation is an expected response to suffering
5- Discontent in the jury room; again, means more than one juror – the jury room holds 12
The strange thing that the second e-mail was received from juror-10 also complaining about the lengthy trial, and stating that he cannot serve past today-Friday; the guilty verdict day because that would hurt his income. That very juror was the foreperson who seemed very proud while reading the verdict.
Chichakli’s trial has generated very little press coverage outside of a few media outlets. Over the last twenty-four hours almost every world-wide media outlet has published a story on Chichakli’s conviction. Most reports are almost identically reading more like a scripted press release as opposed to any actual news coverage or reporting. Ironically I have seen many news publications with this quote or similar variation, “His [Chichakli’s] case has raised tensions in already frigid ties between the United States and Russia.” I say ironic because the interest that I observed from Russia has been somewhere between little or none. In fact, Viktor Bout seems to be fading from the media headlines in Russia and is becoming a mostly forgotten topic. Chichakli is an American-Syrian citizen arrested and then extradited from Australia to the States. I don’t see any direct Russian connection nor any noted interest from the Russian government nor their media.
This case has been anything but usual. The jury has rendered their verdict and the sentencing will be on March 14th, 2014. However, somehow I don’t think the case is over. If I was gambling man, I’d bet big that Chichakli will be looking at the appellate court in the near future.