Convicted Fraudster and Terrorist May Get to Present Fake PTSD Defense
Sixth Circuit rules that evidence of PTSD may be admissible setting stage for new trial for Arab terrorist who illegally became U.S. citizen.
Ari Lieberman, February 28, 2016
The legal saga of Rasmieh Yousef Odeh continues. On February 25, the United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit issued a ruling that could mean a new trial for the convicted fraudster and terrorist. The court’s ruling centers on whether the district court erred in disallowing certain evidence relating to Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) that the defense sought to introduce to negate an element of the crime.
Odeh’s career of depravity began on February 21, 1969 when she along with her cohorts from the Marxist Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine planned and executed a bombing of a SuperSol supermarket in Jerusalem that claimed the lives of two Israeli university students – Leon Kaner, 21, and Edward Jaffe, 22. The two unsuspecting shoppers were stocking up on last minute provisions for a planned hike but Odeh and her gang made sure that they would never make it. Nine others were injured in the blast. A second bomb timed to go off upon arrival of the first responders was neutralized. The gang was also responsible for placing two bombs at the British consulate nearby. One was diffused by Israeli security forces and the other exploded causing only property damage.
Days later, on March 1, 1969 Odeh and the other members of the gang were apprehended. Odeh confessed almost immediately putting the lie to the claim that her confession came about after 25 days of torture. Based on her confession as well as physical evidence linking her to the crime, she was sentenced to life imprisonment but was released in a prisoner swap after serving just ten years. Following her release, she lived in Lebanon for four years and then moved to Jordan. From Jordan, she moved to the United States.
In 1995 she filled out an application for an immigrant visa and alien registration and in 2004, she applied for US citizenship and filled out an application for naturalization. She lied through her teeth on both forms denying ever belonging to a Marxist terrorist organization and denying her past criminal activity, arrest and prison sentence. She then orally repeated the fabrications when questioned by an officer with Department of Homeland Security.
In October 2013, she was indicted on immigration fraud charges. The single-count indictment charged her with violating 18 U.S.C §1425(a) which criminalizes knowingly procuring naturalization contrary to law. In this case, her patently false statements led to her naturalization thus constituting a felony.
On November 10, 2014 a Detroit jury found Odeh guilty of committing immigration fraud and in March 2015, a federal judge stripped her of her citizenship and sentenced her to a term of 18 months and immediate deportation following her sentence. It seemed like justice had finally caught up with her but it was short-lived.
Odeh’s lawyer argued that his client had suffered from PTSD as a result of alleged rape and torture at the hands of Israeli law enforcement personnel during her detention and that her confession was a product of coercion. He further argued that as a result of PTSD, Odeh suppressed memories of her terrorist affiliations and anything relating to the terrorism charges and therefore, did not know that her statements were false when she made them. Aside from Odeh’s own testimony, there is no corroborating evidence that she was tortured or raped.
To support her PTSD theory, Odeh intended to call as a witness a psychologist who specializes in PTSD disorders. The district court judge however, ruled that 18 U.S.C. §1425(a) was a general intent crime as opposed to a specific intent crime and precluded the expert testimony, noting that it was irrelevant. The Sixth Circuit disagreed and ruled that the expert testimony should have been admitted because, if believed, it negates a material element of the crime.
The Sixth Circuit did not preclude the possibility of disallowing the evidence on other grounds and remanded the matter to the district court for an evidentiary hearing to determine the admissibility of the psychologist’s testimony. If the district court judge determines that the evidence is admissible, the federal government will have to retry the case.
While the Sixth Circuit’s ruling was a temporary victory for Odeh, her legal troubles are far from over. First, the court held that Odeh’s other legal challenges concerning other evidentiary rulings and the reasonableness of her sentence, did not warrant relief. Second, the district court may still disallow the PTSD evidence on other legal grounds. Moreover, even if the evidence is allowed, Odeh will have to convince a jury that she was tortured and as a result, suffered from PTSD and consequently, repressed all memory of her criminal past and terrorist affiliations. As noted, aside from her own self-serving testimony, there is no evidence that Odeh was tortured or raped while in custody and in any event, she confessed to her role almost immediately and not after 25 days of sustained torture as she alleged. In addition, Odeh candidly admitted her role in the bombing in a videotaped interview after her release from prison making a mockery of her claims of repressed memories. She remembers her odious past when it suits her interests but suffers from bouts of amnesia when faced with the prospect of deportation.
Odeh the fraudster, the felon and convicted murderer may yet get another bite of the apple but the prospects of her winning her case are slim to none. The terrorist supporters who are overjoyed by the recent ruling are overlooking the fact that the evidence against Odeh is overwhelming and her fraudulent PTSD defense is akin to a desperate Hail Mary that has little if no chance for success.