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Synagogue Bomb Trial Delayed as Defendant Stays Mute

The trial of four men accused of plotting to bomb New York City synagogues and fire missiles at military planes was delayed for a second day after one of them sat in a wheelchair with his eyes closed without speaking.

U.S. District Judge Colleen McMahon denied Laguerre Payen’s lawyer’s request to postpone the trial five days for a mental evaluation. She accused Payen of faking his condition and said he has until tomorrow to “walk into court under your own steam” or face being excluded, she said.

“You are in fact making a spectacle of yourself in court,” McMahon said. “It is very much in your interest to stop this act.”

The other three defendants, through their lawyers, asked for a separate trial, which prosecutors opposed. McMahon said she will rule on their motion tomorrow.

The trial of Payen and co-defendants James Cromitie, David Williams and Onta Williams, which began August 23, was scheduled to resume yesterday following a 2 1/2-day break before Payen’s behavior forced a delay.

Payen was placed in a separate housing unit this past weekend at the Metropolitan Correctional Center in lower Manhattan after being disciplined for letting another inmate use his personal access code to place a telephone call, McMahon said.

Fetal Position

When U.S. Marshals came to take him to court the next morning, he was lying on the floor of his cell in a fetal position, urinating himself and demonstrating symptoms of a seizure, McMahon said. He didn’t respond to staff and had to be brought to court by U.S. Marshals yesterday and today, she said.

Payen has a history of feigning mental illness, McMahon said. He was moved to the Metropolitan Correctional Center from the Westchester County jail within months of his arrest in May 2009 after faking a seizure and smearing feces on himself, and once advised another inmate at a Pennsylvania facility on how to hide medication in his gums in order to avoid ingesting it.

Attorneys for the other three defendants argued that Payen’s behavior may prejudice jurors against their clients and asked McMahon to try them separately.

“We think we’re being held hostage to Mr. Payen’s behavior,” said Mark Gombiner, an attorney for Onta Williams.

The four Newburgh, New York, men are accused of planning to blow up a synagogue and Jewish community center in New York City’s Bronx borough and fire missiles at military planes based at an Air National Guard base at Stewart International Airport in Newburgh. Defense attorneys have argued the defendants are the victims of entrapment by a paid government informant.

The four men have been indicted on counts including conspiracy and attempted use of weapons of mass destruction in the U.S. They face as long as life in prison if convicted of the most serious charges.

The case is U.S. v. Cromitie, 09-cr-00558, U.S. District Court, Southern District of New York (Manhattan).

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