Trial date moved for man in Saudi ambassador plot

August 16, 2012 - 5:35 PM

NEW YORK (AP) — A Texas man charged with plotting to assassinate the Saudi ambassador to the United States will have to wait until next year for his trial as lawyers continue studying the conclusions of psychologists who have examined him.

On Thursday, an October trial date was moved to Jan. 7 for Manssor Arbabsiar to give lawyers more time to prepare for trial.

U.S. District Judge John F. Keenan also scheduled a suppression hearing for three days beginning on Oct. 22. Defense lawyers are seeking dismissal of charges against Arbabsiar and the suppression of statements he made after his arrests, based in part on the findings of two defense mental health experts who concluded he suffers from bipolar disorder.

Arbabsiar was arrested Sept. 29 at Kennedy International Airport in what authorities say was a $1.5 million plot to kill the ambassador, Adel Al-Jubeir, in a bombing at his favorite restaurant.

Arbabsiar, a U.S. citizen who has lived in Texas for decades and holds an Iranian passport, is being held without bail. Charges against him carry a potential life sentence.

In court papers, Michael B. First, a professor of clinical psychiatry at Columbia University, said Arbabsiar's family members and a close friend consistently reported to him that Arbabsiar has a history of extended episodes of depression interspersed with episodes of mania. He said he was told that Arbabsiar in 2010 was severely depressed, isolating himself in his bedroom and rarely getting out of bed except to pace and chain-smoke.

He said Arbabsiar was "likely cycling in and out of manic episodes" from Sept. 29, 2011 to Oct. 10, 2011, if not earlier, and that any statements made to the FBI during that span were likely influenced by his mental illness.

First wrote that Arbabsiar's mood sometimes becomes elevated or expansive in a manic way, like when his sister reported that he treated the flight attendants, pilot and passengers seated around him on a plane to expensive bottles of perfume from the duty-free cart because he wanted to make everyone feel good. He said he believed Arbabsiar was suffering when he was questioned by the FBI from episodes of mania, which can be marked by feelings of invincibility and grandiosity and unbridled enthusiasm for speaking with others.

First also said an MRI performed in June showed Arbabsiar suffers from abnormalities of the brain.

At Thursday's hearing, defense lawyer Sabrina Shroff asked for extra time to prepare for trial in part because the government on Wednesday had given the defense a 21-page report by what seemed to be a mental health expert. She said the report was hard to understand and the defense might need experts to help analyze it.

Keenan looked at the document and asked who had written it. Assistant U.S. Attorney Glen Kopp said it was prepared by Susan Brandon. She is the chief of research for the High Value Detainee Interrogation Group. Made up of multiple government agencies, the unit was created in 2009 to ensure lawful and speedy interrogations of high-value terrorism suspects.