SANTA ANA (CBS) — A group of University of California students was found guilty of misdemeanor charges on Friday for disrupting a speech at UC Irvine by the Israeli ambassador to the U.S.
KNX 1070's Mike Landa reports the verdict sparked an emotional outcry from both sides of the case.
The students, many of whom belong to the Muslim Student Union on campus, were each convicted of one misdemeanor count of conspiracy to disturb a meeting and one misdemeanor count of disturbing a meeting.
Each student could be sentenced to up to six months in jail, probation with community service or fines.
Seven of the defendants are UC Irvine students — Mohamad Mohy-Eldeen Abdelgany, 23; Aslam Abbasi Akhtar, 23; Joseph Tamim Haider, 23; Mohammad Uns Qureashi, 19; Ali Mohammad Sayeed, 23; Osama Ahmen Shabaik, 22; and Asaad Mohamedidris Traina, 19.
Three defendants are UC Riverside students — Khalid Gahgat Akari, 19; Taher Mutaz Herzallah, 21; and Shaheen Waleed Nassar, 21.
An 11th defendant, UC Irvine student Hakim Nasreddine Kebir, has completed 40 hours of community service, and he is expected to have the charges against him dismissed during an Oct. 7 hearing, according to his attorney.
The six-man, six-woman jury began deliberating Tuesday afternoon in a trial that began Sept. 7.
Deputy District Attorney Dan Wagner told jurors during the trial that the actions of the students amounted to a "heckler's veto" of Michael Oren's Feb. 8, 2010, speech on the UCI campus.
Defense attorneys countered with free-speech arguments, claiming the students did not violate misdemeanor laws governing public meetings as prosecutors have alleged.
The students planned a protest mirroring one done at the University of Chicago in which students disrupted an appearance from former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert.
In a coordinated effort, the students stood up and bellowed slogans at Oren such as "Michael Oren, you're a war criminal," followed by cheers from supporters. They capped it off with a loud, mass walkout of students.
Wagner argued that the rules of the meeting were spelled out when the students were admonished after the first couple of interruptions by UCI professor Mark Petracca and UCI Chancellor Michael Drake.
Wagner had to prove to jurors that the students were aware of the rules, conspired to break them and had no other outlet to carry out their protest.
Thirty-five minutes into the event, Oren was 2 minutes and 21 seconds into his speech due to all the interruptions, he said.
"I submit to you that is substantial interference with a meeting," he said. "The show could not go on."
Defense attorney Dan Mayfield argued that the protests altogether took about 4 minutes and 35 seconds, but added, "Let's call it five minutes."
The event was supposed to run from 5:30 to 7 p.m., but a private gathering with Oren and campus supporters went long, Mayfield said.
He also argued that the students readily and without incident surrendered to campus police, and the walkout of all of the students' supporters happened just after 6:30 p.m., before the event was supposed to end, so Oren had time to finish his "canned speech."
Defense attorney Reem Salahi argued that the students were warned before the event that no disruptions would be tolerated, meaning they were effectively denied an outlet for their free-speech rights, which should lead to an acquittal.
(©2011 CBS Local Media, a division of CBS Radio Inc. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. Wire services contributed to this report.)
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