American LeT operative David Coleman Headley today pleaded not guilty to the 12 counts filed against him in the superseding indictment returned on January 14, including charges he conspired in plotting the terror attacks in Mumbai and a Danish newspaper.
Appearing before US Magistrate Judge Arlander Keys in US District Court for the Northern District of Illinois here, Headley entered a not guilty plea to the charges at his arraignment hearing that lasted about 10 minutes.
Wearing an orange prison jumpsuit, Headley’s hands and legs were shackled when he was brought into the packed courtroom. He talked briefly with his lawyers John Theis and Robert Seeder before the hearing began, at one point even smiled and laughed while talking to his attorneys.
Headley greeted the Judge “Good Morning” and responded “I do your Honour” and “Yes your honour” when Keys asked him whether he understood the charges the prosecution read out to him and that the maximum penalty in his case is death if convicted.
Headley said “That is correct” when the Judge asked him if he is entering a not guilty plea. Keys set a status hearing for February 23 before US District Judge Harry Leinenweber.
Headley’s lawyers had earlier requested Leinenweber that his “presence be waived” at the status hearing, which means he would not be required to appear in court on February 23.
Headley remains detained in federal custody at the federal lock-up Metropolitan Correctional Centre.
This was Headley’s second appearance in court after December 7, when he had appeared for his first arraignment and pleaded not guilty.
A federal grand jury had on January 14 returned a superseding indictment adding Pakistani-Canadian Tahawwur Rana to the charges filed in December against Headley, alleging they and others participated in conspiracies involving a planned terrorist attack against a Danish newspaper and the November 2008 terrorist attacks in Mumbai, that killed approximately 164 people, including six Americans.
The 12-count superseding indictment contains identical charges that were filed against Headley on December 7, 2009, while adding Rana as a defendant in three of the counts charging material support of the terrorism plots in Denmark and India, as well as in support of the designated foreign terrorist organisation.
Rana had also pleaded not guilty to the charges at his arraignment on January 25.
“Case is progressing. It is going to be a significant period of time while we review the evidence. We are in discussion with the government about what they beleive Headley is responsible for,” Mr. Theis told reporters.
When asked if the Indian authorities approached him regarding Headley’s extradition, Mr. Theis refused to comment. He said he would not read anything particular into the fact that Headley appeared calm in the court today and smiled while he was talking to his attorneys.
“Headley is a very intelligent man who is participating very actively in the defence. We talk to him of and about the evidence against him. He knows the seriousness and gravity of the charges againt him and I am confident he treats it as seriously as we do“.
Mr. Theis said while Headley is cooperating in the investigation, he would “respect our clients wishes” that nothing more be discussed about his cooperation.
At the MCC, Headley is under the same three-man hold policy that Rana is.
Terming this is “unfortunate”, Theis said “the floor that Headley is on is the same floor that they put people who are there either because of their own conduct or because of security problems.
“Headley is not accused of doing anything within the institution that would cause him to be a security problem. It is not an easy situation on the security floor there and to move from one place to another you has to have three people with you and you are in the cell virtually all the time.”
Mr. Theis said such an arrangement impacts the defence as it .
“obviously slows down the process and makes its difficult every time we meet with him“.
He said between now and the next court date on February 23, “we will continue to review the evidence with Headley” and would report to Leinenweber about how things are moving along and whether “we are making progress as to an ultimate disposition of the case“.
Headley(49), a US citizen and Chicago resident, faces the same 12 counts that were filed against him last month — six counts of conspiracy involving bombing public places in India, murdering and maiming persons in India and Denmark, providing material support to foreign terrorist plots, and providing material support to Lashkar, and six counts of aiding and abetting the murder of US citizens in India.
Headley has remained in federal custody in Chicago since he was arrested in Chicago on October 3, 2009.
He has pleaded not guilty to the charges but previously authorized the Justice Department to disclose that he is cooperating in the ongoing investigation.