Judge refuses to move Flint airport terror trial
A federal judge Thursday refused to relocate the terror trial of Amor Ftouhi, a Tunisian national accused of stabbing a police officer during a terrorist attack at Bishop International Airport in Flint last year.
Ftouhi wanted to move the trial from Flint to Detroit but U.S. District Judge Linda Parker said it cannot be presumed that the jury pool in Flint is prejudiced against the terror suspect. The judge also said a jury questionnaire will help determine prospective jurors' exposure to pretrial publicity about the case.
The judge's order came three weeks after Ftouhi, 51, asked to have his trial moved to Detroit due to pretrial publicity and the outpouring of community support for Bishop Airport police Lt. Jeff Neville, who survived the attack.
Ftouhi is scheduled to stand trial Nov. 5 on three counts, including committing an act of terrorism transcending national boundaries, which is punishable by up to life in prison.
Federal juries in Flint are drawn from a pool of approximately 750,000 people. The people hail from a diverse region that includes "urban, suburban and rural areas exposed to varying news
markets and sources," the judge wrote.
The judge also concluded that the nature and content of pretrial publicity were insufficient to warrant a change of venue.
"Additionally, the large majority of news articles and local events related to the alleged offense occurred in 2017, with only a few articles published and a few local events occurring in 2018," the judge wrote. "Thus, the time between the publicity and the trial is not too short to warrant a presumption of prejudice."
Requests to move trials in this judicial district are almost never granted.
In 1987, U.S. District Judge Anna Diggs Taylor granted what's believed to be the only venue change in the Eastern District of Michigan in the case of Ronald Ebens, who was convicted of a civil rights violation in the death of Chinese-American Vincent Chin.
Taylor ruled Ebens did not get a fair trial in Detroit in what the government claimed was a racially motivated attack on Chin. Ebens was retried in Cincinnati, where he was acquitted by a jury.
Former Detroit Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick failed to have his racketeering trial moved from Detroit in 2012.
Ftouhi came to the U.S. after conducting online research into American gun laws and Michigan gun shows, prosecutors allege.
He tried unsuccessfully to buy a gun, bought a knife and used it on June 20, 2017, to stab Neville, according to court records.
During the attack, Ftouhi referenced killings in Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan and yelled “Allahu Akbar," investigators alleged.
Ftouhi later told investigators he was a “soldier of Allah” and that he subscribed to the ideology of al-Qaeda and Osama bin Laden.