Attorneys for the Key West terror suspect charged with trying to buy a bomb he planned to set off in South Florida have asked a judge to let them leave the case, saying their client refuses to take their advice as he approaches trial.
They also want the trial of Harlem Suarez, 24, who is accused of being an Islamic State sympathizer, postponed due to the flood of news coverage in the aftermath of the weekend Orlando nightclub massacre in which the gunman pledged allegiance to ISIL. Forty-nine people died, the worst mass shooting in U.S. history.
Suarez, who faces life in prison if convicted of planning to detonate a weapon of mass destruction at a beach filled with people, is scheduled to stand trial July 11.
“A continuance is in the interests of justice until such time as the heated reporting on the Orlando incident has subsided,” attorneys Richard Della Fera and Joshua Entin of Fort Lauderdale wrote in a motion filed Tuesday at U.S. District Court in Key West .
At the same time, the lawyers have asked to withdraw from the case, saying Suarez won’t listen to an “extreme extent.”
“Counsel believes that the attorney-client relationship with defendant has deteriorated to the point that it is best that defendant have new counsel,” the lawyers wrote in a motion filed Friday in U.S. District Court.
They asked Judge Jose Martinez for a hearing at which they can make their case that Suarez needs a new legal team. On Monday, Martinez referred the motions to Magistrate Judge Lurana Snow. Prosecutors hadn’t responded as of midday Tuesday.
In another filing by Della Fera and Entin, they ask the court to not let testify at trial Daniel Byman, who the government calls an expert on terrorism and the Islamic State known as ISIL, saying it flies in the face of fairness for Suarez.
“Clearly, the very mention of terrorism and the Islamic State invokes fear and worry in hearts and minds of every American citizen,” Suarez’ attorneys wrote. “It will be difficult enough for defendant to get a fair trial in the present climate where the media’s constant reporting and commentary on terrorism and terrorist attacks is omnipresent.”
The motion was filed Sunday, when the nation awoke to the horrific news of the mass shooting at the Pulse gay nightclub in Orlando.
The gunman, Omar Mateen, 29, who police killed at the scene, killed most of his victims and then phoned law enforcement officials to pledge allegiance to the Islamic State and praise the Boston Marathon bombers, Orlando police said.
Suarez, who remains jailed at a Miami federal detention center, recently showed some defiance by filing his own handwritten motion to dismiss the charges against him, saying the FBI coerced him into trying to buy the explosive.
Martinez quickly tossed the motion, citing the court rule that a defendant cannot file his own claims if he has representation.
Gwen Filosa: @KeyWestGwen