WASHINGTON — A federal judge said Wednesday she will release an alleged Somali pirate ahead of his trial this fall, saying it was "pretty extraordinary" to hold someone presumed innocent in jail for more than two years.
U.S. District Judge Ellen Huvelle said at a hearing that she will issue an opinion Thursday that releases Ali Mohamed Ali. He'll be subject to 24-hour monitoring while awaiting trial, which is scheduled to begin with jury selection on Oct. 31.
Ali is accused of negotiating a ransom payment during a November 2008 pirate takeover of a Danish merchant ship in the Gulf of Aden.
It will be the second time that Huvelle ordered Ali released pending trial. She also did so in July 2012, after the government appealed one of her pretrial rulings in the case. But an appeals court quickly reversed her and ordered Ali back into custody.
The government indicated it will appeal this latest ruling, too. Assistant U.S. Attorney Fernando Campoamor-Sanchez asked Huvelle to suspend her ruling while the government appealed it; the judge said no.
The government argued Wednesday, as it did last year, that Ali posed a flight risk. But Ali's lawyer, Matthew J. Peed, noted that his client didn't try to flee when he was out for 10 days last year. Other than that, he's been locked up since April, 2011.
"It's a long time to be locked up in D.C. jail," said Huvelle, adding that the jail is not set up for long-term stays.
Huvelle said that the jurors probably won't reach a verdict in the case until after Thanksgiving.
"Imagine if they find him not guilty and he'd been in jail for 32 months," said Huvelle, an appointee of President Bill Clinton.
Huvelle briefly addressed Ali directly, telling him she's ordering him released because she believes in the Constitution and due process. She also said he'll be in a better position to prepare for trial outside of jail.
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