Defense for Sami Osmakac claims client has mental illness, entrapped by FBI


update: after this story aired, the jury returned its verdict: guilty

Jurors began deliberating the fate Tuesday of a Pinellas County man accused of plotting terrorist attacks in Tampa.

Sami Osmakac was arrested in January 2012 but his lawyers say he has mental illness and was entrapped by the FBI into planning violence.

WMNF interviewed Mel Underbakke, director of the education committee of the advocacy group National Coalition to Protect Civil Freedoms. She has attended much of the more than 2-week trial.

“Sami Osmakac is accused of planning to use weapons of mass destruction and of possession of the machine gun that was not registered.”

If you could lay out what the prosecution was saying that were some of the crimes that they suggested he was going to do.

“He said them himself, they have recordings of that, but he was going to go to MacDinton’s pub, I believe he was going to blow that up and take hostages somewhere, some other major place with lots of people. The purpose of the hostages was to get Muslims released from prisons like overseas, in Guantanamo. One name he named was Aafia Saddiqui. She’s been held in solitary confinement in Texas for years now after being disappeared in Afghanistan for five years. This was his goal, he was trying to right the wrongs but this was not the kind of thing that he could have planned on his own, I’m totally convinced.”

What’s been happening in the trial and what’s the evidence look like?

“George Tragos is his defense lawyer and their defense is that he was entrapped by the FBI informants. They feel he was susceptible to that because of a number of mental health issues. He’s been diagnosed by five different psychiatrists or psychologists as having psychotic behaviors. Two of them call this schizo-affective and there’s also some consensus that he is paranoid, that he is depressed, and that he suffers from PTSD. The only one that disagrees is the government psychiatrist who was paid $40,000 for his diagnosis but everybody else is pretty consistent about that.”

What are some of the examples they gave of his instability, his mental health issues that you heard about in court?

“One thing he did was at one point he was thinking about killing his family which was basically delusional and he’s also been in solitary confinement for the past 2 1/2 years, his trial just started 2 weeks ago. The psychiatrist in Pinellas County jail where he was held, they had him on anti-psychotic drugs so it was then recognized by them. There’s another thing I heard in court, there’s one time he went overseas. He wanted to help fight against the oppressors, again which would be the American oppressors. So he went overseas without bothering to get visas so he couldn’t get into any of the countries. He didn’t bring the proper clothes with him. He finally had to call his parents to get money to get home. So he’s not good at planning things and that definitely came out in court.”

So did he come up with all of these ideas to harm people in a bar in South Tampa? Did he come up with these ideas himself?

“That I don’t know. Another interesting thing about the case is that they recorded a lot of meetings with him and this confidential human source as they call him which is a paid FBI informant who’s identity is a secret to everybody including the defense lawyers so they couldn’t cross examine this person although his recordings are submitted in evidence. Sami and the confidential human source met for about a month before they started recording. This is where the ideas came in, I think.”

So someone with the types of mental health issues that you’re talking about are they capable of planning the elaborate attacks that he’s been accused of?

“I would say, in this case, definitely not. This trial differed from many of them because the FBI informant befriends the person that they’re trying to accuse of terrorism, get him involved in something so they can plan a plot and then they foil the plot and then they put the person in jail. Typically that’s the plan. And in this case they accidentally recorded themselves talking amongst each other so we have a recording of just FBI agents talking. What they said there was they were worried about controlling him. They say he was wishy-washy. He was disorganized and he kept changing his focus, he kept changing what he was going to do. So I say there’s no way he could have planned this without some assistance.”

The jury is out right now, what do you think will happen?

“I really hate to say. I know entrapment cases are very difficult to win so I hope they go with entrapment. The judge’s jury instructions I thought were very good. The defense lawyer’s closing arguments he focused on the lack of evidence. He said ‘you saw this evidence, think about what you didn’t see. What happened that first month when they did not record Sami?’ There’s a year of surveillance of Sami and he should have had those reports but he was not given those reports. The government lawyer, she disagreed with that. She tried to tell the jury you can’t consider lack of evidence but the judge put them in the jury instructions today. She said you can consider the evidence presented, you can consider the lack of evidence. So I hope they consider it. To me I would say he was entrapped. I don’t know, I hope they do.”

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