BURLINGTON, Vt. (AP) — A federal jury was deliberating Friday whether a Bosnian man lied about his role in war crimes when he applied for U.S. citizenship after moving to Vermont more than a decade ago.
The jury hearing the case against Edin Sakoc resumed talks Friday morning after asking U.S. District Court Judge William Sessions a question about the definition of the word "persecution."
Prosecutors say 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, is charged with lying about his role in the crimes when he applied for citizenship in 2007.
Defense attorney Steven Barth said the crimes were committed by a powerful Bosnian Croat army commander and that Sakoc couldn't be held accountable for the actions of another, even though he was aware of the killings after they took place.
"Mr. Sakoc never raped anyone, never murdered anyone. He never lied," Barth said during closing arguments Thursday.
Sakoc's attorneys claimed the witnesses' stories were inconsistent and the alleged rape victim repeatedly changed her story over the years about whether she was assaulted.
"The evidence is overwhelming he committed a number of crimes that night," said Jay Bauer, an assistant U.S. attorney. "You can't come here and build a new life on a foundation of lies."
If convicted, Sakoc, 55, could be stripped of his U.S. citizenship and deported.
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 that he was present the night the two women were killed but denied involvement in the killings.
Many Bosnian refugees have been 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.
Sakoc has been free pending trial.