“Taliban” Case Goes to the Jury Looking Completely Different Than It Did Coming In

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Yolo-Count-Court-Room-600On Friday, the trial of four Yolo County residents charged with assault and accused of being, at the very least, sympathizers of the Taliban, wrapped up and went to the jury.  A Yolo County jury will have to sort through the four-week long trial and determine whether the three men accused of assault started the fight and were not provoked.

When the trial began, several weeks ago, there were four defendants, facing attempted murder charges among numerous counts of assault.  Now, the attempted murder charge long gone, the defendants down to three, and numerous charges dismissed due to lack of evidence, the picture is clearer but still murky.

With literally an hour and a half left of new testimony, Linda Moreno, counsel for Mr Khialuddin Niazi, stood and explained that she had been woken by a 3am text stating that Mr Khialuddin Niazi had been taken to the emergency room, having woken up in the middle of the night complaining of pain, paralysis in his leg and being unable to walk. 

She explained at that time, that she’d just been told that his condition had worsened and that he might undergo surgery soon.  She provided a physician’s letter for the court and said that she would visit the hospital again and find out more about the situation.  The trial was paused until the next morning to reassess the situation.

The next morning, Ms. Moreno explained that Mr Niazi had suffered an aortic aneurysm and that he had undergone a four-hour surgery to repair it.  She explained that, according to the doctors, Mr Niazi had almost died.  She said he was now recovering in the Intensive Care Unit and the doctors said it would be weeks before he would be able to engage in any normal activity.

Judge Mock stated that he was inclined to dismiss the case with respect to Mr Khialuddin Niazi, and continue the trial with the remainder of the defendants.  Defense counsel did not object. 

Deputy DA Robin Johnson objected to a dismissal of the case against the elder Niazi, citing that there was barely a day and a half remaining in the 20-day trial and she would like to wait to see if Mr. Niazi would somehow, in the short term, be able to attend the final day and a half of trial.  She stated that she did not mean to make light of the fact that Mr Niazi was gravely ill.  She said that if there were to be a chance that he could attend, it would avoid having to re-conduct the entire trial for him in the future.

The judge stated that since there was no likelihood that Mr. Niazi would be available in anything less than weeks, that he would dismiss the case against him. 

As we previously reported, due to charges of prosecutorial misconduct, stemming from the fact that facts about the Federal Task Force’s involvement were withheld from the defense prior to the original trial date in 2006, Judge Mock had thrown out attempted murder charges and left the case as a simple assault case.

At that time, Judge Mock had declined to dismiss the entire case, but did dismiss the attempted murder charge.  He believes that the prosecutorial misconduct that was identified at the pretrial previous hearing “could” have caused Judge Lebov to dismiss the entire case, but we will never know.

He ruled that there was complicity between the prosecutor and the investigating police officer.

He had stated, “What I’m trying to do is to make sure that the People don’t benefit from what I see as the prosecutorial misconduct that occurred at that time.”

Indeed, attempted murder would have been a nearly impossible charge to get a conviction on anyway, as it turned out.  It is questionable, even if the jury were to convict the men of assault, that they would get the enhancement for great bodily injury (GBI).

Despite charges that the alleged victims were brutally and viciously attacked with baseball bats, the injuries sustained were relatively trivial for all but one of the men, who had a broken and bloodied nose that appears to have been the result of a punch., as well as a cut to his shin from a strike with a baseball bat.  One alleged victim, we heard during trial, was held up by two men while a third clubbed him in his torso with a bat in the style of a baseball player striking a ball.   A full body photo of the man taken the day after, shown not a single mark on his torso.  The other serious injury was to the elder Mr. Niazi himself, who was stabbed, though the suggestion from the prosecution’s case is that somehow he stabbed himself.

In addition to the attempted murder charges from earlier, as many as nine charges were thrown out towards the end of trial at the point where the prosecution had put on its entire body of evidence.  The court ruled to acquit the defenadants on those charges as the result of a defense counsel motion seeking the acquittal of the defendants based on the lack of evidence.

The standard here for dismissal is to take all evidence presented in the best possible light.  Which means of the nine charges that were dropped, including assault by means of force likely to produce GBI and the GBI enhancement, there was no claim by any prosecution witnesses that those particular offences were committed and therefore nothing at all for the jury to decided on those particular counts.

During the defense’s closing statement, Public Defender Dan Hutchinson argued that the charges of Taliban involvement were so preposterous that the DA dropped mention of the Taliban as the trial went on.

Deputy DA Johnson, in her rebuttal, disputed that the Taliban issue had been dropped. However, the only evidence of Taliban involvement seems to come from the victim himself.  There is no independent corroboration. Evidence of Taliban involvement and a political dispute with the victim, Sayed Sayah, came only from the victim, who claimed that the Niazis found out that he was planning to go to Afghanistan as an interpreter for the American war effort and that that was what spawned the fight.

Considerable question was introduced in trial about the alleged chain of events, but the strongest defense arguments appeared to be the lack of independent evidence of Taliban sympathies, the fact that the Niazi brothers are American citizens, they have lived in this country most of their lives, their presence here predated the existence of the Taliban, and they appear to be very westernized overall.

Moreover, the Niazi family appears to have had a longstanding dispute with Sayed Sayah and his wing of the family.  The question for the jury now becomes whether it was reasonable that the Niazis came over looking for a fight, or looking to talk, and that things just got out of hand.

In the end, this is a murky case, perhaps too murky for a jury to definitively resolve.  The jury will have to decide how it is that five large men, wielding baseball bats, viciously attacked another group of men and caused hardly any injuries at all.

—David M. Greenwald reporting

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About The Author

David Greenwald is the founder, editor, and executive director of the Davis Vanguard. He founded the Vanguard in 2006. David Greenwald moved to Davis in 1996 to attend Graduate School at UC Davis in Political Science. He lives in South Davis with his wife Cecilia Escamilla Greenwald and three children.

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4 thoughts on ““Taliban” Case Goes to the Jury Looking Completely Different Than It Did Coming In”

  1. E Roberts Musser

    As I said before, there is “my side, your side, and the truth probably lies somewhere in the middle”! I suspect neither side had unclean hands here. But what a mess for the jury to try and sort out.

    dmg: “The other serious injury was to the elder Mr. Niazi himself, who was stabbed, though the suggestion from the prosecution’s case is that somehow he stabbed himself.”

    That sounds a little far-fetched, unless the wound was only superficial…

  2. Roger Rabbit

    Wouldn’t it be nice if the jury said we are tire of the games the DA plays and we are just going to acquit everyone of everything and send a message to that enough is enough.

    Good for Judge Mock for standing up and doing the right thing.

  3. Iyah

    Yes. I’m glad to see the judges standing up. It seems like it’s taken a little exposure to the public. But they are doing their jobs and standing up making sure the law is followed. Thank goodness, because this DA’s office is not focused on truth. How many cases now are there were the charges did not fit the crime alleged, the wrong person brought to trial, overcharged, etc, etc.

  4. Superfluous Man

    lyah,

    “How many cases now are there were the charges did not fit the crime alleged, the wrong person brought to trial, overcharged, etc, etc.”

    Would be interesting to know. Even more interesting would be a comparison of that information to other counties, which may suggest that these things are or are not unique to Yolo County.

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