The Key West man accused of trying to buy a bomb to detonate at a local beach is now set to stand trial Jan. 23 rather than next month in light of the Orlando massacre news coverage, a judge has ruled.
Harlem Suarez, 24, will also keep his attorneys, Joshua Entin and Richard Della Fera, who earlier this month asked to withdraw from the case saying their client won’t take their advice. The judge ruled after a closed court hearing over the issue.
“At the conclusion of that hearing, [Suarez] stated that he wished to continue with Mr. Della Fera as his counsel, and that he understood the need to trust in and cooperate with his lawyer,” wrote Magistrate Judge Lurana Snow in a June 21 ruling.
If convicted of everything prosecutors say he did trying acquire a weapon of mass destruction, Suarez faces 30 years to life in prison.
Separately, Snow also ruled Suarez and his legal team deserve a 90-day postponement of his trial, previously set for July 11 at the federal courthouse in Key West before Judge Jose Martinez, citing first the need for his lawyers to prepare.
“And for media coverage of events in Orlando to diminish,” Snow wrote of the June 12 mass shooting in which South Florida resident Omar Mateen killed 49 people and wounded 53 inside an Orlando nightclub.
Mateen, 29, who was killed by police, had pledged allegiance to the Islamic State during the shooting and called himself an Islamic soldier in conversations with police. Suarez is accused of being an ISIL sympathizer and making a recruitment video for the terrorist group, Suarez’ lawyers pointed out.
“It is inconceivable [he] will not suffer spillover prejudice from the highly-publicized event in Orlando,” Entin and Della Fera wrote, three days after asking for a continuance over their reported disconnect with their client, who had lived with his parents in a Stock Island apartment when arrested.
Martinez didn’t mention the word Orlando in his ruling, which adopted Snow’s recommendations, but instead referred to “media coverage of current events” as a reason to push back the trial. Prosecutors did not oppose the request to postpone trial.
Suraez, who remains at a federal detention center in Miami, is charged with attempted use of a weapon of mass destruction and providing material support to a designated foreign terrorist organization for allegedly trying to buy a bomb from undercover agents with a plan to bury it in the sand at a local beach and set it off remotely with a cell phone.
Suarez last year also ordered an AK-47 rifle under his own name and address but asked it be shipped to a Key West pawn shop, which contacted FBI agents over the order. Suarez had no disqualifying factors preventing him from legally owning the rifle but he never took possession of it because he failed to fill out the paperwork correctly, agents said.
Gwen Filosa: @KeyWestGwen on Twitter