Lockerbie Trial Adjourns For 2 Weeks

The trial of the two Libyans accused of blowing up Pan Am flight 103 has been adjourned for two weeks while lawyers gear up for the next phase of the trial.

The adjournment until May 23rd was announced at Camp Zeist Thursday after prosecutors and defense lawyers reached a deal on how to handle evidence from debris left by the 1988 crash of the Pan Am jumbo jet.

The accord on fragments from the bombing that killed 270 people will allow prosecutors to cancel a number of witnesses. But extra time is needed so they can jump to the next stage of their case going into technical and forensic evidence.

Libyans Abdel Basset al-Megrahi and Al-Amin Khalifa Fahima have been on trial since May 3 at the special Scottish court in the Netherlands. They are charged with planting a bomb in the Boeing 747 that blew up over Lockerbie, Scotland.

Trial at a Glance
  • The charges: Murder, conspiracy to murder, contravention of the 1982 Aviation Security Act. The court can convict only on one charge.
  • Maximum sentences: A life sentence is mandatory if convicted of murder or violation of the aviation act. In case of a conspiracy conviction, punishment is at the court's discretion.
  • Possible verdicts: Guilty, not guilty, not proven. In either of the latter two cases, the defendants are acquitted.
  • Burden of proof: The defense does not need to prove anything to secure an acquittal, merely to raise a doubt as to the prosecution's assertion of the defendants' guilt.
  • Corroboration: Each incriminating fact must be supported by two pieces of evidence or credible witness testimonies.
  • Appeals: An appeal may be made on the basis of a procedural error, insufficient evidence or wrongful submission of evidence. In case of appeal, the five-judge Scottish High Court in Edinburgh would come to Camp Zeist to hear it.
  • The agreement, read aloud during Thursday's brief session, covers several hundred of the 40,000 pieces of debris from the explosion, detailing where and when they were found.

    It also stipulated that a purple hold-all piece of luggage was checked on at London's Heathrow airport by victim Sophie Hudson.

    Some 230 witnesses had been scheduled to testify about the painstaking recovery of debris, but many of these will now not have to be called, prosecutor Alastair Campbll said.

    He held out the prospect of the two sides continuing negotiations during the recess on other areas of possible agreement that could further speed up the trial.

    Although the lawyers held talks late Wednesday night and continued Thursday morning, many elements remained outstanding.

    During the next stage of the trial, air accident investigators will be called followed by experts in explosive effects and metal physics. Forensic scientists would then appear, Campbell said.

    But the prosecution would be put at an disadvantage if it did not get the chance to interview defense witnesses on the same subjects, he added.

    During the first six days of the trial, prosecutors traced the half-hour flight of Pan Am 103 from London until it exploded over Scotland, detailed the carnage when it plunged to the ground, then tracked the laborious search for debris.

    Defense lawyers have pointed the finger at Palestinian groups in the bombing, which killed all 259 people aboard the airliner and 11 residents of Lockerbie.

    In cross-examinations, the defense team has prompted witnesses to admit they had to guess sometimes when and where evidence was found, apparently to cast doubt on where in the jumbo jet a bomb blast may have occurred.

    Prosecutors accuse the Libyans, said to be members of their country's intelligence agency, of concealing a bomb in a brown Samsonite case originating in Malta. The defense is expected to argue that the bomb was put on board in Germany by Palestinians.

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