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Hassan trial is justice taken hostage

It was Paul Cambria who made me snap to attention.

The renowned Buffalo defense attorney made the rounds to discuss what he saw in court as an observer of the trial of Muzzammil "Mo" Hassan.

As reported by Sandra Tan in Saturday's Buffalo News, Cambria praised the judicial patience in evidence during the trial. But, as Tan reported (and, as Cambria said all over local TV), Cambria "was impressed with the amount of information Hassan was able to convey to the jury through his narrative testimony regarding his troubled marriage to his wife." In this case, he said, Hassan is able to convey far more information to jurors using a narrative format than to have a defense lawyer ask him questions on the witness stand. "I'm sitting here thinking, 'gee, if I had to get that in, how would I do it and how long would it take me?'" Cambria said.

At that moment, it was clear to me that any fool still clinging to any tatter of a notion that there has been anything "overdone" in local media in its trial coverage of Hassan for killing and beheading his wife should have his license to use the English language revoked.

What Cambria -- a professional's professional in the defense attorney's trade -- was telling us laymen is that Hassan, in his successful control freak commandeering of the proceedings, has bypassed all conventional defense techniques and constructed a defense that could innovate all manner of courtroom malevolence down the road.

Here was a "show trial" created by a defendant, not a government.

If what Cambria says is true -- that an accomplished attorney has trouble doing in court what a blundering self-confessed killer can -- what now stops other unpopular defendants from getting the message and kidnapping their own trials on a regular basis to get "their stories" told, consequences be damned?

In our time, it seems, nothing trumps the "story."

I'm just a layman here. But Cambria stopped me in my tracks. Which is only one small reason why this trial has been, on a local scale, a small version of the O.J. Simpson spectacle all those years ago.

The Simpson trial wasn't mere exploitation, it was an astonishing confluence of things all wrapped up in one blood-soaked package: fame, race, the history of athletic entitlement in America, the sexual folkways of Los Angeles (the daughters of Simpson's late good friend, remember, are today's Kardashian sisters). It was like an outrageous, over-the-top graphic novel version of "Othello."

The Hassan trial is, in its way, almost as astonishing a confluence of things in the trial of a man whose sole agency in his wife's gruesome death has never been disputed for a second: irrational American fears after 9/1 1, what it says about "spousal abuse," the inalienable rights of defendants in our system, the public right to know.

Hassan's life, at this stage, has turned into an unholy parody of things. He and his wife created a cable TV network to foster greater understanding of the Muslim faith in the broader community and yet their individual fates have created suspicion and unease about "honor killings."

His defense claims spousal abuse of a 300-pound man by a woman whose beheading, in fact, may have begun while she was still alive, according to courtroom testimony.

And now, a fabled American defense attorney tells us that in his lurching way, the man who claims his wife's "King Kong" epithet was affectionate, may have stumbled on a technique for taking monstrous murder trials hostage for years to come.

He may not care, as the ancient saying goes, that he has a "fool for a client," as long as he has a star for a client.

An amazing story by any conceivable assay. And, thus far, local media -- especially this newspaper, in my opinion -- have been remarkably equal to it.

e-mail: jsimon@buffnews.com

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