The attorney for one of three Minneapolis men charged with plotting to support the terrorist organization ISIL has asked to leave the case, just days before it heads to trial and amid an outcry from the defendant’s family over his representation of their son.
Attorney Murad Mohammad filed the request under seal Thursday, a day after U.S. District Judge Michael Davis denied his motion to be paid by the court because the family of Mohamed Farah, could no longer afford his fees.
Farah’s parents, Ayan and Abdihamid Farah, meanwhile pleaded for Davis to appoint their son a new attorney before the trial, for which jury selection is scheduled to begin Monday. Late Thursday, Davis ordered that a hearing on Mohammad’s motion take place at 9 a.m., Monday.
The rift between the attorney and the Farah family was triggered by Mohammad’s insistence that pleading guilty to conspiracy to commit murder abroad — which carries a possible life sentence — was the best option for their son outside of trial, they say. Some of Farah’s supporters have concluded that with that charge, the government is accusing the men of committing murder, not just conspiring to do it when they reached the battlefield.
“How can you accept something you did not commit?” Abdihamid Farah said Thursday. “You did not murder anybody, you never carried a gun.”
Mohammad did not respond Thursday to messages seeking comment.
Farah’s parents say he met with his attorney this week in the Sherburne County jail, accusing Mohammad of not taking the case seriously and asking that he withdraw as his attorney. Farah’s parents said he has since been placed in solitary confinement at the jail. The U.S. Marshals Service could not be reached for comment on that claim; when similar allegations were made last year by co-defendant Guled Omar’s family, the Marshals Service said Omar was placed in “administrative segregation” for his own protection 23 hours a day, at the FBI’s behest.
Farah, 22, and his younger brother, Adnan, 20, were the only two defendants in the federal investigation who retained private attorneys. The other defendants, six of whom have pleaded guilty, were appointed lawyers under the Criminal Justice Act (CJA), a provision that guarantees representation to defendants unable to afford attorney fees.
Last month, Mohamed Farah’s other attorney, P. Chinedu Nwaneri, was allowed to withdraw from the case after a weeklong inquiry into whether he and his legal clerk — St. Paul Imam Hassan Mohamud — would prejudice Farah and others at trial because of the imam’s behavior outside the courtroom. The inquiry stemmed from the disclosure that a co-conspirator would testify that he heard the imam discussing prayer in jihad in a lecture.
Adnan Farah, meanwhile, accepted a late plea deal last month over new evidence that the imam may have interfered with his ability to consider a previous offer last year.
Last minute maneuvers
After repeated questioning from Davis last month, both Mohammad and Farah insisted they were comfortable moving forward to trial. Mohammad did ask Davis to consider appointing a second attorney to assist him, and Davis asked that the federal defender and Mohammad arrange a meeting. In a ruling on Wednesday, Davis said Mohammad did not attend a scheduled meeting and “made no attempt to reschedule or reach out to the federal defender’s office in any manner.”
Davis said Mohammad failed to demonstrate that being changed to court-appointed status “serves the interest of justice in any manner” and denied his “last-minute request for a CJA bailout.”
The Farahs said Thursday that while they hired Nwaneri’s legal team to represent Mohamed, it was the firm that recruited Mohammad to join the defense. They said they agreed to pay Nwaneri’s law firm $40,000, which would be shared with Mohammad. They said they had paid $30,000 of that contract — with two-thirds going to Nwaneri — and told Mohammad they could no longer pay after Nwaneri left the case last month.
Farah, Abdirahman Daud, 22, and Omar, 21, are scheduled to stand trial starting next week on charges including conspiring to provide material support to ISIL and to commit murder abroad. The three are among a circle of 10 friends accused of plotting to travel to Syria to join the terrorist organization.