NYT : Lawyer Seeks Mental Testing of Suspect in J.F.K. Case

Friday, August 03, 2007

Lawyer Seeks Mental Testing of Suspect in J.F.K. Case

By ALAN FEUER | August 3, 2007

The lawyer for a former air cargo worker charged in a plot to detonate fuel tanks at Kennedy International Airport asked a federal judge yesterday to allow a psychological examination of the man to determine his “intellectual limitations.”

The lawyer said the worker, Russell M. Defreitas, understands that he has been charged in a terrorist plot but cannot read and may have a fairly low intelligence.

“His analytical abilities are somewhat limited,” the lawyer, Andrew Carter, said.

Mr. Defreitas, 63, has been in federal custody since early June when he was arrested at a Brooklyn diner and charged with conducting surveillance in a plot to blow up the fuel tanks and a capillary system of pipes that runs beneath the airport and a large swath of Brooklyn and Queens.

Three other men — Abdel Nur, 57; Abdul Kadir, 55; and Kareem Ibrahim, 62 — were also charged in the plot and remain in custody in Trinidad awaiting extradition.

Prosecutors have described Mr. Defreitas, a slight man with a scraggly beard, as the mastermind of the plot, which included surveillance of the airport using photographs, video and satellite images downloaded from Google Earth.

Authorities have said that if the plot had been carried out, the result would have been catastrophic.

Mr. Carter refused to discuss his reason for requesting the psychological evaluation, which can be conducted only by order of a judge.

Lawyers for another terror suspect, Shahawar Matin Siraj, tried unsuccessfully last year to combat charges that their client plotted to blow up the Herald Square subway station in 2004 by arguing, in part, that he was of limited intelligence.

The judge in the Kennedy case, Dora L. Irizarry of Federal District Court in Brooklyn, gave the prosecution a week to respond to Mr. Carter’s request for an evaluation of his client.

The case against Mr. Defreitas and the others revolves largely around recordings by a government informant who managed to infiltrate the plot well before any concrete steps were taken.

Marshal Miller, an assistant United States attorney, told Judge Irizarry that a “voluminous quantity” — nearly 300 hours — of conversations between Mr. Defreitas and the informant were secretly recorded during investigation of the case.

Mr. Miller also said that classified issues of national security might arise in the case. A hearing is scheduled for Aug. 31 to discuss those issues.