Virginia man cleared of threatening judge


A Virginia man was cleared yesterday of criminal charges alleging that he threatened a Howard County judge, although he served about seven months in jail while awaiting trial.

Saif U. Khan, 41, of Arlington, Va., was found not guilty of threatening to get a gun to shoot Circuit Judge Dennis Sweeney. He was accused of making the threats in repeated calls he made to the Circuit Court clerk's office in October 1993.

Mr. Khan -- who initially filed an insanity plea -- was acquitted a week after he rejected a plea bargain that called for him to receive a suspended jail term and probation for the incident.

He had been held at the Howard County Detention Center without bond for 211 days.

A Circuit Court jury deliberated about two hours after a two-day trial before clearing Mr. Khan of threatening a state official and misusing a telephone.

Mr. Khan, a mechanical engineer who moved from Pakistan nine years ago, could have been sentenced to up to three years in jail had he been convicted.

During testimony Monday, Laura Thompson, supervisor of the civil division at the clerk's office, testified that Mr. Khan became irate when she informed him that Judge Sweeney dismissed part of a lawsuit he filed over a 1992 car accident.

Ms. Thompson told the jury she was "100 percent sure" that Mr. Khan said he was going to shoot Judge Sweeney.

But Janette Deboissiere, a Columbia attorney for Mr. Khan, asserted during her closing argument that Ms. Thompson incorrectly heard her client. She said Mr. Khan is sometimes difficult to understand because of his accent, particularly when s upset.

Mr. Khan testified through an interpreter yesterday that he told Ms. Thompson that Judge Sweeney's ruling would in effect "kill him" -- not that he was going to harm the judge.

But Senior Assistant State's Attorney Kathi Hill said during her closing statement that it was unreasonable for Mr. Khan to have called Ms. Thompson five times in two days. "On the very first call, his questions were answered," Ms. Hill said.

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