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Judge denies venue change in Bergen synagogue firebombings case

Photo Credit: Bergen Prosecutor) INSET: Dalal with Ron Paul
Photo Credit: Mary K. Miraglia, CLIFFVIEW PILOT Courthouse Reporter
Photo Credit: Bergen Prosecutor) INSET: Dalal with Ron Paul

YOU READ IT HERE FIRST: A Superior Court judge today denied a change of venue to the lawyer for one of two men charged in a series of Bergen County firebombings — after it was disclosed that the defendant is accused of threatening the county’s presiding judge.

Superior Court Judge Edward A. Jerejian told defense attorney Brian Neary that it’s “not the amount of publicity but the type and quality” that determines whether a defendant has the opportunity for a fair trial.

Bergen County is the most populous county in the state, he said, and so it is “premature” to say that jurors would be unduly prejudiced in hearing the case against Aakash Dalal.

Even though they may have read pre-trial publicity, that doesn’t mean they wouldn’t be able to be fair and objective, the judge said — adding that such concerns could be addressed as jurors are being selected.

“There is no indication that the jury pool has been tainted, or so tainted that the defendant can’t get a fair and impartial jury,” he concluded.

Jerejian also noted that it wasn’t known when Neary requested the change of venue that his client had been accused of threatening Presiding Superior Court Judge Liliana DeAvila-Silebi.

Authorities already have charged Dalal with threatening to kill a prosecutor who previously handled the case.

Every defendant “has a right to a fair trial,” Jerejian said. “But he doesn’t have the right to control who prosecutes him based on actions he takes himself” — namely, threats.

To do otherwise, the judge said, “would have a chilling effect” on the court system.

“The fact an allegation has been made doesn’t mean an entire office should be disqualified,” he said.

Besides, the supposed threats against DeAvila-Silebi “have  yet to be proven,” the judge added.

DeAvila-Silebi in September refused to recuse herself from hearing the case involving the murder conspiracy charge against Dala involving her former colleague, Assistant Bergen County Prosecutor Martin Delaney ( SEE: Bergen judge refuses to step out of murder plot case in synagogue firebombings ).

Dalal is scheduled to come before her this Monday in Hackensack.

Although Delaney was the original prosecutor in the Bergen synagogue arsons, the case against Dalal and his co-defendant, Anthony Graziano, is now being handled by a trio of senior staffers led by First Assistant Bergen County Prosecutor John Higgins.

Both men have been under indictment in the synagogue attacks since last summer.

Prosecutors said Graziano carried out the bombings in December 2011 and January 2012 under Dalal’s tulelage — including one Congregation Beth El in Rutherford, another at Temple K’Hal Adath Jeshrun of Paramus, and an attempted arson at the Jewish Community Center of Paramus.

  • EXCLUSIVE: Two men accused in the firebombing of a Rutherford synagogue chose their target for a simple reason, a Bergen County prosecutor said this past week: It was made of wood. READ MORE….

The pair are also charged with bias intimidation offenses at Temple Beth Israel in Maywood and at Temple Beth El Hackensack.

Graziano was arrested in January 2012 following an intense manhunt after surveillance footage released to the public showed him leaving the Route 46 Wal-Mart in Saddle Brook with a bag of items that included hair spray cans, duct tape and Orange Crush – to be used as bombs, Bergen County Prosecutor John L. Molinelli said at the time.

The Orange Crush bottles are believed connected to “Left 4 Dead,” an X-Box game that two Florida honor students cited as their inspiration for throwing more than a dozen Molotov cocktails at cars and a house in Florida four years ago, the prosecutor said.

Although people commonly know of Molotov cocktails as bottles filled with gas and ignited by a kerosene-soaked wick stuffed into the mouth, some devices instead involve a chemical or gel and gasoline mix that ignites when the container breaks.

Authorities first believed that Graziano was a “loner,” as Molinelli put it.

But a check of his computer turned up correspondence with Dalal, a childhood friend.

CLIFFVIEW PILOT received information pointing to Dalal early in the investigation and immediately notified Molinelli. However, the prosecutor said his detectives independently got onto Dalal’s trail based on a biased posting of his on a Jewish online site after the firebombings.

Molinelli said Graziano used a bicycle to get to and from the attacks.

Dalal, who used to live in Lodi, is charged with nearly all of the same offenses, in addition to the charge involving Delaney.

Both men are the first defendants in New Jersey charged with terrorism under a state law enacted in 2002, months after 9/11.

Besides the adverse publicity, Neary said there could be prejudice by Molinelli’s office because of the murder conspiracy charge.

He noted that Molinelli attended grand jury hearings that led to a March 1 indictment — a move the defense attorney said apparently was “playing to public sentiment.”

Higgins said that once Dalal was arrested, he admitted his association with Graziano and later said that Delaney was “the first person he was going to kill” once he got out of jail.

Dalal had arranged to post $1 million bail when the alleged murder plot was discovered, Molinelli told CLIFFVIEW PILOT last June.

After the murder conspiracy charges were brought, Dalal’s bail was hiked to the current $4 million.

STORY / PHOTOS: Mary K. Miraglia, CLIFFVIEW PILOT Courthouse Reporter

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Aakash Dalal (MUGSHOT: Bergen Prosecutor) INSET: Dalal with Ron Paul (EXCLUSIVE CLIFFVIEW PILOT PHOTO)

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AN OFFICER WRITES : The coward who firebombed the home of Rabbi Rosson Schuman and his family failed to produce the terror, silence or cries for vengeance that such incendiary devices are meant for. No. The hateful act offered the Rutherford rabbi an opportunity to deliver a message that is as important now as ever. READ MORE….

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