Today: December 10, 2003 at 6:19:44 PST
Documents Destroyed in Professor Case
By VICKIE CHACHERE
TAMPA, Fla. (AP) - Trying to cut down on clutter, clerks at a federal courthouse accidentally destroyed search warrants in the case of a University of South Florida professor charged with aiding terrorists.
The mistake was discovered last week when attorneys for Sami Al-Arian requested copies. The documents contained affidavits from federal agents that supported 1995 searches of Al-Arian's home and offices and were among thousands of documents shredded sometime between 1998 and 2002.
U.S. Judge Thomas McCoun told defense attorneys Linda Moreno and William Moffitt he has asked federal prosecutors and the FBI to search their files for copies.
Moffitt said Tuesday he is researching how the absence of original documents could affect the case. U.S. Attorney Paul I. Perez said the document destruction should not affect the office's ability to prosecute.
Sheryl Loesch, clerk of court for the Middle District of Florida, said clerks misread guidelines for destroying files when they were clearing out old cases to make room for new ones. She said the destruction has affected only one other case, and in that instance there was enough information on the case's docket to satisfy attorneys.
Al-Arian was indicted earlier this year. The U.S. government accuses him of being the North American head of the Palestinian Islamic Jihad. He faces life in prison if convicted.