Trial and Tribulations

Naim Amini fled Afghanistan to build a new life, a life now lost in the translation.

The jury's foreman, Mike Moore, also passed a note to Judge Lawrence: "I don't believe beyond a reasonable doubt the story told by [Tasha] about being touched on her breast," Moore's note read. "I do not reasonably believe that the defendant would perform this action on the first encounter with this person and in the presence of his own daughter. Furthermore, I do not believe the people have made a case beyond a reasonable doubt."

Judge Lawrence sent back a message asking the jurors if they were certain they were deadlocked.

At 3:15 p.m., the foreman sent out another note: "We the jury do not believe that continued deliberations will be productive. If we do not unanimously find the defendant guilty, are we in fact finding him not guilty?"

Heartfelt appeal: Attorney Paul Grant has requested a new trial for Naim Amini -- a trial he'd understand.
John Johnston
Heartfelt appeal: Attorney Paul Grant has requested a new trial for Naim Amini -- a trial he'd understand.

This note, written in the hand of foreman Mike Moore, was accompanied by another note, this one by a different author:

"I cannot come to the conclusion of guilt. It is hard for me to believe that this incident could have happened based on this being the first time [Tasha] spent the night. In addition, the logistics of where each party was does not lend itself to this event occurring. I do not feel that either attorney did a good job in presenting convincing arguments, or that it was investigated very well at all.

"Based on the witnesses and legal arguments, I have reasonable doubt if this occurred at all or if it has been blurred past the point that [Tasha] can tell what actually happened, if anything. How much of this is [Tasha's] own words, and how much of this recounting has been ingrained over time with the repeated words of others?"

"The jury was clearly struggling," says Grant, who's read the transcript again and again. "They just needed a little nudge. They would have loved to hear Mr. Amini say, 'I don't know why she's made this accusation, but it never happened. I would never do that.' The jury would have liked to have been reassured that he is not a dangerous person; they wouldn't have understood his words directly, but they would have seen him as a kind, gentle, quiet, calm, respectful, grandfatherly looking person with his own daughters. They would have seen him expressing horror and outrage at the idea of an adult touching a child inappropriately. He would have said that to him, as a devout Muslim, it would defy belief that he would ever do anything like that."

At five minutes to five, the jury sent out a third note: "If we do not unanimously find the defendant guilty for any individual account, how do we proceed, assuming there will be no reconciliation?"

Judge Lawrence began to exhibit frustration. "I don't know what's going on with these people," he told the attorneys.

In a courthouse waiting room, Cole informed Amini and his family for the first time that, if convicted, Amini was facing a mandatory minimum sentence of ten years in prison and would be taken into custody immediately. "We were shocked," says Mariam. "We had no idea. Mr. Cole said, 'I'm only telling you this now because I'm a little scared, because they're taking so long to decide, and that's usually a bad sign.'"

Also, it was near quitting time, and criminal defense attorneys fear late-day verdicts.

"People just want to go home and not have to come back the next day," says Grant. "Especially when they've already said once or twice, 'Hey, we're hung, it's over,' and the judge sends them back a note, 'No, no, no, no. Can you please go back and do it some more?' That sends a message that you're not getting out that easy. So in a lot of cases, some people on the jury say, 'Okay. I give in. It's not worth it to me to keep fighting. I don't know this guy. I'll go along with the rest of you so we can all get out of here.' They cave. It's sad, but it happens all the time."

At 5:10 p.m., the jury sent a final note to Judge Lawrence: "We have reached a verdict on counts 1, 2, and 4."

The jurors had deliberated for a total of just under eight hours -- two hours longer than the entire trial.

Lawrence read the verdicts through his speech synthesizer: Amini had been found guilty of two counts of sexual assault on a child and one count of pattern sexual assault. His bail was immediately revoked. He was handcuffed and led away. The bailiff gave Mariam her father's wallets and keys.

"That's the only dad I have!" Laila screamed at the jury. "How could you do this?"

Inside the Amini house that night, the phone rang and rang. It was the first night of Eid Al Fitr, the annual Muslim celebration marking the end of Ramadan, a holy month of fasting from dawn until dusk. Amini's friends were calling to wish him "Eid Mubarak," a happy breaking of the fast.

"Dad hadn't told any of them this was going on," Mariam says. "We had to explain to them why he wasn't there. You can only say he's at work for so long."

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