Trial in Rutgers Student Firebombing Case Not Soon: Prosecutor

Rutgers Indian American student Aakash Dalal has been held in solitary confinement for two years while awaiting trial on charges that he and a conspirator fire-bombed four synagogues in New Jersey. (Associated Press photo)

Bergen County Prosecutor John Molinelli said Feb. 24 that the case of an Indian American Rutgers student charged with fire-bombing four synagogues two years ago will not come to trial anytime soon.

Aakash Dalal, a former Rutgers freshman, has been held in solitary confinement 21 hours a day since he was arrested and charged with the Molotov cocktail bombings in March 2012. He is being held on $4 million bail on aggravated arson, conspiracy to commit arson and bias intimidation.

North Bergen County prosecutors allege that Dalal taught his co-conspirator Anthony Graziano how to make Molotov cocktails and throw them with maximum impact.

In an interview with India-West, Molinelli said no trial date had yet been set; he expects the case to come to trial this fall. The prosecutor said that many cases in Bergen County have taken more than two years to come to trial. “It takes time for the wheels of justice to turn,” he said.

The prosecutor told this publication he would not address the validity of the charges against Dalal, and also declined to comment on why the 19-year-old has been held in solitary confinement since his arrest, responding that the conditions of Dalal’s detainment were beyond his purview.

Dalal’s attorney, Brian Neary, had asked the court for a change of venue, noting the amount of publicity the case has attracted, along with additional charges that Dalal had threatened to harm a prosecutor and judge in his case.

But last week, on Feb. 18, Bergen County Court Judge Edward Jerejian denied a motion to change the venue.

Molinelli told India-West he believes Dalal can get a fair trial in Bergen County and said that the court will conduct an aggressive voir dire, screening potential jurors for possible bias.

If convicted of all charges, Dalal faces up to 54 years in prison without the possibility of parole, according to Molinelli.

Adarsh Dalal, Aakash’s father, told India-West that his son’s civil rights are being violated, as he is being held indefinitely in solitary confinement. “Some days, I just look at the wall all day long,” said Dalal, quoting his son.

The father denied that his son was in any way involved in the case, and that Aakash had been in New Hampshire working on Ron Paul’s presidential bid. His boarding passes to and from New Hampshire have been considered insufficient evidence. Adarsh Dalal also refuted media reports stating that Graziano was a childhood friend of his son, saying he had never seen or heard of Graziano until the case against his son began to take shape.

Dalal also refuted prosecutors’ statements that Aakash had traveled to North Korea and Yemen to receive training in terrorism. “There is no proof of that in this passport. Show me the evidence,” he stated.

An appellate court reviewing Dalal’s bail amount – at that time set at $2.5 million – found it to be “excessive and an abuse of discretion.” The appellate court noted the severity of the charges but also noted that no one had been seriously hurt, except a rabbi who had burned his hand. The appellate court also noted that the bombings were planned via “instant messages” and Graziano was likely the perpetrator in the actual bombings. The court recommended setting bail at $1 million.

But when the Dalals went to pay the bail amount – mortgaging their home to come up with the bond – they were told that their son’s bail had now increased to $4 million, in light of new findings by the FBI that day that Dalal was planning to kill Bergen County assistant prosecutor Martin Delaney, once released, and had a list of people he planned to attack. The Dalals did not have $4 million, so their son remains in solitary confinement.

Pradip “Peter” Kothari told India-West that the local Indian American community has rallied around the Dalal family. Kothari, who heads the Indo American Cultural Society, said he and the IAMC are orchestrating a campaign to put pressure on Molinelli as well as Acting New Jersey State Attorney General John Hoffman, to get a fair and speedy trial for Aakash Dalal.

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