BURLINGTON, Vermont — A man charged with lying about his role in Bosnian war crimes when he applied for U.S. citizenship after moving to Vermont more than a decade ago was convicted on Friday.
If Edin Sakoc's conviction is upheld on appeal, he would be stripped of his U.S. citizenship and deported, Assistant U.S. Attorney Eugenia Cowles said. Sakoc, 55, also could face up to 10 years in prison.
Prosecutors said Sakoc raped an Orthodox Christian woman in the town of Pocitelj and aided in the killings of two elderly women in her Bosnian Serb family in July 1992. Sakoc, a Bosnian Muslim who arrived in the United States in 2001, was accused of lying about his role in the crimes when he applied for citizenship in 2007.
Cowles, the lead prosecutor in the case, said, "I think it's an important case because we have laws that guide immigration in this country, and when we receive information that raises questions as to whether people have abused that system in coming in there's an obligation to investigate it and follow through on that prosecution."
Sakoc's attorneys, who are likely to appeal, said they felt the verdict was inconsistent because he was found guilty of lying on an immigration form but the jury did not find he committed any of the underlying crimes.
"They didn't find him guilty of having committed a crime," defense attorney Steven Barth said after reviewing the jury form. "The second question is have you ever persecuted anyone. And they didn't find him guilty of that either."
Instead, what the jury found was that Sakoc lied when he said he had never given false information to U.S. officials.
U.S. District Court Judge William Sessions III noted the same thing.
"There was no finding as to whether Mr. Sakoc had committed any (war) crimes or whether he had persecuted anyone," the judge said after the jury verdict was announced.
Sakoc, who showed no emotion when the verdict was read, was allowed to remain free on conditions. He, his wife and his young daughter have been living with a family.
Sakoc left the courtroom without making any comment. His attorneys asked for and were granted 30 days to file post-trial motions.
During closing arguments Thursday, Barth, the defense attorney, said the crimes were committed by a powerful Bosnian Croat army commander and Sakoc couldn't be held accountable for the actions of another, even though he was aware of the killings after they took place.
Sakoc's attorneys also said the witnesses' stories were inconsistent and the rape accuser repeatedly changed her story over the years about whether she was assaulted.
After about an hour of deliberations Thursday, the jury asked to re-hear an audio recording played during the two-week trial in which Sakoc told U.S. immigration authorities he was present the night the two women were killed but denied involvement in the killings.
Many Bosnian refugees have settled in the Burlington area. On Thursday, about two dozen of Sakoc's supporters were in the courtroom and waited with him for the verdict in the hallway outside.
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