SANTA ANA (AP) — More than half the prospective jurors in the case of an Egyptian man accused of molesting and murdering a boy were dismissed by a judge Monday for prejudice against Middle Easterners.
Defense lawyers also persuaded Orange County Superior Court Judge Richard Weatherspoon to delay the start of the trial of John Ghobrial until Sept. 28.
Nearly half of the 163 prospective jurors were disqualified for strong anti- or pro-death penalty views, and the rest “appeared to be biased against Middle Easterners because of the World Trade Center” attacks, district attorney’s spokeswoman Tori Richards said.
Ghobrial, 31, is accused of the 1998 slaying of Juan Delgado, 12. Prosecutors allege Ghobrial — a butcher by trade — molested and killed the boy, then used a meat cleaver to carve up his body before encasing it in concrete.
Last week, deputy public defender Denise Gragg requested a delay in Ghobrial’s trial after reports of rising hate crimes against Arab-Americans. The judge denied the request on grounds there wasn’t enough evidence then to show Ghobrial could not get a fair trial.
Ghobrial, a Coptic Christian, was granted asylum after telling the Immigration and Naturalization Service he fled Egypt to escape religious persecution. At his 1996 asylum hearing, Ghobrial said several people pushed him under a train, severing one arm.
Prosecutors have since learned that Ghobrial did not disclose his criminal background to INS officials. Three years before he was granted asylum, Ghobrial had been arrested on suspicion of molesting and stabbing an 8-year-old cousin. The boy, who was stabbed repeatedly in the stomach and chest, survived.
Prosecutors said they will produce evidence of the alleged 1993 attack to support their case that Ghobrial should receive the death penalty.
Ghobrial was living in a shed he rented from a La Habra resident at the time Delgado was killed. Ghobrial has pleaded innocent to the charges.