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Originally published September 24, 2012 at 11:47 AM | Page modified September 24, 2012 at 12:39 PM

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SPD deleted texts; now terror-plot defendant wants case dropped

The defense lawyers allege a Seattle police detective "deliberately destroyed nearly all of his electronic communications with the paid informant during the relevant and critical period of the investigation" in June 2011.

Seattle Times staff reporter

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Attorneys for a man accused of plotting to attack a military processing center in Seattle have asked a federal judge to dismiss conspiracy and attempted-murder charges against their client because the lead detective in the case allegedly deleted hundreds of text messages from a paid informant, despite being told not to by federal prosecutors and the FBI, according to court filings.

The defense lawyers for Abu Khalid Abdul-Latif alleged Seattle police Detective Samuel DeJesus, the informant's handler and a key member of the investigative team, "deliberately destroyed nearly all of his electronic communications with the paid informant during the relevant and critical period of the investigation" in June 2011.

According to court documents, both the defense and the FBI have tried and failed to retrieve the data from the detective's phone. The defense alleges DeJesus performed a "security swipe" of his cellphone, ensuring the texts were lost forever.

"Based upon Det. DeJesus' willful failure to preserve critical and relevant evidence, the defense respectfully requests that the court dismiss the indictment," wrote Jennifer Wellman, Abdul-Latif's federal public defender. Wellman has asked U.S. District Judge James Robart for a hearing Oct. 16, when she intends to call as witnesses the detective, the informant and at least one of the prosecutors in the case.

Up until the discovery of the missing texts, Wellman said, prosecutors had turned over a total of nine text messages to the defense during discovery. The defense was not made aware of the missing texts from the detective's phone until a year later, she wrote.

The defense documents say the government has acknowledged DeJesus deleted the informant's texts "on a regular basis, sometimes daily," despite being "repeatedly told by multiple members of the prosecution team to preserve all of his texts."

Abdul-Latif is claiming he was entrapped by the informant, who had promised he could secure weapons for an attack on the Military Entrance Processing Station (MEPS) on East Marginal Way.

According to the charges, Abdul-Latif and another man, Walli Mujahidh, planned to attack the MEPS on July 5, 2011, with small arms and grenades to kill as many military personnel, recruits and government employees as they could.

The indictment states that Abdul-Latif, who prosecutors describe as a felon and "self-radicalized" convert to Islam, hoped the attack would spur other attacks by Muslims on U.S. targets. The men were arrested in a Seattle warehouse when they took possession of the firearms. Much of the prosecution's case is built on surreptitious recordings of Abdul-Latif made by the confidential informant. Court records show the informant has been paid more than $90,000 by the Seattle Police Department, which continues to support him financially pending the trial, set for March 4, 2013.

The defense earlier challenged the credibility of the unidentified informant after he allegedly admitted deleting recordings on his phone of meetings between himself and Abdul-Latif. The recordings were destroyed, according to court filings, because the informant — a Level 3 sex offender — was allegedly trying to cover up the fact he had been sending sexually explicit texts in violation of his community release.

Now, according to the latest documents, the defense is alleging Detective DeJesus deleted as many as 383 text messages he received from the informant between June 3 and June 23, 2011, the dates during which Abdul-Latif, the informant and Mujahidh allegedly hatched the attack plan.

Abdul-Latif faces six counts, including conspiracy to murder employees of the U.S. government, conspiracy to use a weapon of mass destruction (a grenade) and possession of a firearm in furtherance of an act of violence.

Those crimes carry life sentences, and the firearms charge includes a mandatory-minimum 30-year sentence that must be served apart from any other prison time.

Mujahidh, also known as Frederick Domingue, has a long history of mental illness. He already has pleaded guilty and is scheduled for sentencing Jan. 25. Prosecutors have promised to ask for a sentence of 27 to 32 years.

The U.S. Attorney's Office is due to respond to the defense's claims Oct. 1. Spokeswoman Emily Langlie said prosecutors would not otherwise comment.

Mike Carter: 206-464-3706 or mcarter@seattletimes.com

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