Man facing deportation in Bosnia war crimes case seeks new trial, argues flawed conviction

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MONTPELIER, Vermont — A man convicted on charges he lied on a U.S. immigration form about his role in Bosnian war crimes is asking for a new trial, claiming jurors based the conviction on allegations prosecutors made during the trial rather than charges in his indictment.

Attorneys for Edin Sakoc claim in court papers that jurors in his January trial found him guilty of making false statements about memberships in military and political organizations in Bosnia although he was not charged with failing to disclose his affiliation with the groups.

Jurors indicated on a verdict form, however, that Sakoc lied when he said on an immigration form that he never gave false or misleading information to immigration officials.

Sakoc, 56, a Bosnian Muslim who arrived in the United States in 2001, was charged with lying about his role in the crimes committed in July 1992 in the town of Pocitelj when he applied for citizenship in 2007. Federal prosecutors contend he raped a Serb woman and aided in the killing of two elderly people she was caring for.

Defense attorneys, however, say jurors rejected the government's argument that Sakoc lied about his participation in the crimes because they did not indicate so on the verdict form that included the allegations.

"If you are going to be charged with a felony, it's got to be a felony that was returned in the indictment by the grand jury," defense attorney David McColgin said Friday. "What they did in their closing argument was to effectively amend their indictment."

Acting U.S. Attorney Eugenia Cowles said she had not read the defense arguments, and her office could not immediately respond.

If the conviction is upheld, Sakoc could be sentenced to up to 10 years in prison, fined $250,000, lose his citizenship and be deported. He is free pending appeal.

During his eight-day trial, Sakoc's attorneys argued the war crimes were committed by a powerful Bosnian Croat army commander and that Sakoc couldn't be held accountable, even though he was aware of the killings after they took place.

Jurors were given a verdict form to indicate which of four statements Sakoc made on his naturalization form they determined to be false. The jury did not indicate that he lied when he denied he had committed any crimes or persecuted anyone.

Late in the trial, prosecutors introduced evidence that Sakoc "failed to disclose during the naturalization process that he was in a political organization of Muslims in Bosnia called the 'SDA,' and that he failed to disclose that he was in the 'HVO' — a military organization of Croats and Muslims — where he participated in reconnaissance," according to the defense filing.

"The special verdict form strongly suggests that the jury rejected the government's argument that Mr. Sakoc lied about committing crimes or persecuting the three women, as alleged in the indictment," the attorneys argued. "Instead, the jury appears to have found Mr. Sakoc guilty based on the alleged false statements raised for the first time during the trial regarding Mr. Sakoc's participation in SDA and HVO."

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