Rana's trial likely to begin on November 1

Rana's trial likely to begin on November 1

Rana's trial likely to begin on November 1

During Rana's status hearing in US District Court yesterday, Judge Harry Leinenweber set November 1 as a "tentative" date for commencing the trial of the 49-year-old terror suspect, after both prosecution and defence lawyers agreed to it. Later talking to reporters, Rana's lawyer Patrick Blegen said the "government has estimated four weeks for the trial but that is a tentative estimation".

"There is only one defendant. There are other defendants but the government does not have them in its custody. So it is a one-defendant trial. "The prosecution is the one who has to put on its case, so it would know better than I as to how long the trial will take. The government has said four weeks is a tentative estimation," Blegen added.

He further said the defence would be getting "classified discovery" in the case in a week or two and then he would come back and report to the Judge on how much time it will take to go through that discovery. "The trial date may or may not be November 1 but currently it is set tentatively for November 1".

Leinenweber said the trial date could change if defense attorneys show they did not have enough time to review the evidence produced by prosecutors. Blegen said Rana is still living under "onerous conditions" at the federal lock up Metropolitan Correctional Centre.

Chicago's top federal prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald, who is personally handling the case, was also present for the hearing. He too agreed that dates should be blocked in advance for the trial and if required adjusted accordingly. Blegen told the court that even Rana would like his trial to start "as soon as possible".

His co-accused, LeT operative David Coleman Headley, had pleaded guilty in March to plotting the Mumbai terror attacks, thus avoiding a death penalty and extradition to India, Pakistan and Denmark. Rana has pleaded 'not guilty' and his lawyer said Rana would not be changing his plea and go ahead for trial.

The other two co-accused in the case, Illyas Kashmiri and retired Pakistani major Abdur Rehman Hashim Syed (Abdur Rehman) are not in US custody. When asked after the hearing if Indian investigators have sought to interrogate Rana, Blegen said, "I have not been contacted by anybody. Obviously at this juncture I cannot let any investigators from anywhere speak to him.

If they (Indian authorities) contact me I would think about it," he added. The Judge also ruled on the several pre-trial motions that Rana's lawyer had filed in the court. He had filed a motion seeking 'Bill of Particulars', asking the government to provide him "specific" details of the kind of "material support" he is charged with providing to terror acts in Mumbai and Denmark, citing the need to be better prepared for trial.

The Judge granted this motion. "I am very satisfied with the ruling today. We asked for more details of the charges against Rana and that has been granted," Blegen added. The judge also granted a motion of "disclosure of favourable evidence". Through another motion, Rana had asked the government to disclose all allegedly similar crimes, wrongs or acts allegedly committed by him on which the prosecution intends to rely at trial.

This motion was also granted by the Judge. Meanwhile, US Attorney's Office spokesperson Randall Samborn, who was present for Rana's hearing, said he could not  comment on whether any date has been fixed by when Indian investigators can come to the US to question Headley in the Mumbai attacks. Headley's lawyer John Theis too said he would not be able to "comment on the specific circumstances of any access to Headley and when and where the access would take place". Theis however added that there is "no change in our understanding" that Indian investigators should be given access to Headley.

"That is one of the reasons why we would like to have a trial date as soon as is possible. "Even the prosecution does not want to delay the trial and they are happy to go (for trial) whenever everyone is ready to go," he added. During the hearing, Leinenweber said he feels the trial should begin "sooner rather than later" and both sides should block dates for the trial in advance.

He fixed June 17 as the next date for Rana's status hearing. Wearing an orange jumpsuit with his legs shackled, Rana was also present in the court during the hearing which lasted about 25 minutes. He appeared calm and nodded when the Judge set the tentative date for trial.

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