NORFOLK, Va. (AP) - Jurors have concluded a full day of deliberations in Virginia without reaching a verdict in the trial of five Somali men accused of launching a pirate attack on a U.S. Navy ship.
Jurors met for about 7 1/2 hours Tuesday in Norfolk. They are scheduled to resume deliberations Wednesday in U.S. District Court.
The jury emerged once late in the day to ask a question about the 14 charges. They then told Judge Mark S. Davis they would not be able to reach a verdict.
The piracy trial is believed to be the first in the U.S. since the Civil War, according to legal and maritime scholars. If jurors convict the men of piracy, the defendants face a mandatory life term in prison.
Widely conflicting accounts of the men's alleged actions were outlined in closing arguments Monday. The government says the men left Somalia in three boats in search of merchant vessels and mistakenly attacked the Norfolk-based frigate, the USS Nicholas, which was part of a flotilla patrolling the pirate-infested waters nearly 600 miles off the coast of Somalia.
Shortly after midnight April 1, three men in an 18-foot skiff approached the battle-tested Nicholas and sprayed assault rifle fire at the 453-foot ship, prosecutors said. The Nicholas returned fire and the men fled, tossing a rocket-propelled grenade in the water as they returned to a larger boat with two other defendants and supplies.
During their interrogation on the Nicholas, the men said they were shark fishermen, but later confessed to being pirates, prosecutors said.
"They need to be held accountable," prosecutor Joseph E. DePadilla said Monday, describing the assault as a "vicious attack."
"They are pirates," he said.
Defense attorneys portrayed the men as victims of pirates and said they were forced into piracy. Three of the five defendants testified during the two-week trial.
"Simply being in the wrong place at the wrong time is not a crime," said David Bouchard, who represents Abdi Wali Dire.
The defense is using a duress defense -- meaning jurors could find the five not guilty if they believe the men were kidnapped and forced into piracy.
Prosecutor Benjamin L. Hatch scoffed at that defense.
Their argument, he said, boiled down to: "We didn't do it, but if you think we did it, someone made us do it."
The men also face 13 other charges, including plundering, weapons, assault and conspiracy counts.
Another group of Somali defendants are being held in the Norfolk area, accused of launching a separate attack on the USS Ashland. The government is appealing a judge's decision to dismiss the piracy charge in that case.
The judge concluded that since the men did not actually board and rob the Ashland, their actions did not constitute piracy.
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