Accusations of ‘Injustice’ at Trial of Four Iraqi Christians

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The trial of four Iraqi Christians continued Thursday in Amarillo’s Federal cour with both the prosecution and defense calling witnesses to the stand, and the proceedings were at times heated.

The first witness was Caitlin O’Sullivan, who was 18-years-old during the incident on Southwest Airlines #1522 on August 31, 2015. During the defense’s questioning, she claimed the procedure of writing her statement following the flight’s diverted landing in Amarillo was “disorganized,” with possible witnesses using the walls and floors of Rick Husband International Airport as desks to write their affidavits. It was “unclear” if asking for more paper was possible, she claimed.

O’Sullivan was present during the alleged altercation, but admitted that she could not hear the conversations between the defendants and flight attendants. She said that now she believed there was the “potential” of escalation, but the defense challenged her by citing two separate interviews she gave immediately following the incident.

On the night in question, O’Sullivan was approached by a local Fox affiliate station in Chicago, the flight’s intended destination. During the interview the witness claimed she “never felt in danger” during the flight. In a separate interview with Chicago news station WGN, she said the defendants were “just young boys” acting “obnoxious … Personally, [O’Sullivan] thought it was unnecessary to stop.”

On the social network Twitter, which allows users to send short messages out to followers, O’Sullivan tweeted another passenger’s claim that racial profiling played a role in the removal of the Iraqis, but she refuted this in court.

During the afternoon session the defense called William Garland of Milwaukee, Wis., to the stand.

A man who runs an animation company and is a frequent flier, Garland sat in front of the two rows occupied by the defendants on the flight.

He told the jury that he saw “nothing unique” about their conduct, although they were a bit louder than most passengers. What stood out, according to him, was the flight attendant’s denial of an alcoholic beverage to one of the defendants. Garland flies twice a month, and this was the “first time” a flight attendant denied a drink to a passenger that he had encountered.

According to his testimony, things became contentious at this point. The Iraqis felt wronged, but Garland never heard them use an ‘aggressive tone” with Southwest employees. However, he found the flight attendant’s tone to be “condescending” and “unreasonably rude.”

In his view, an “injustice” had been committed against the defendants.

For their part, the prosecution did not agree. Prosecution attorney Josh Skora repeatedly objected to the defense’s line of questioning on the grounds of hearsay, though Judge Sydney A. Fitzwater overruled the overwhelming majority of these.

Next, the prosecution called Katelyn Rogge to the stand. A young woman returning to Chicago after a California vacation at the time of the flight, Rogge validated the prosecution’s claims of “intimidating” behavior on the part of one of the defendants towards a flight attendant, as well as harassment of her friend and passenger Tiffany Darge.

Rogge said that one of the defendants had risen from his seat to “get in the face” of an attendant in an intimidating gesture. Garland had previously refuted this. She also said that at least one of the defendants verbally harassed Darge and gave her “the finger,” sending her friend shaking and crying to another seat.

The defense countered by pointing out Rogge’s claims during the prosecution’s questioning that she never felt “physical harm” was imminent. They also used her Twitter account, which allowed her to express her feelings at the time of the incident.

Rogge’s tweets included the abbreviation “LOL” for “laugh out loud,” and admitted she thought the situation was “maybe a little funny” as it was happening.

Court is on recess until Monday. The four defendants could be sentenced up to 20 years in prison and up to a $250,000 fine.