MAYVILLE, NY (WNY News Now) – Legal counsel for the man accused of trying to murder Salman Rushdie are worried at the worldwide media coverage of the attack will impact his client’s ability to receive a fair trial in Chautauqua County.
The lawyer for 24-year-old Hadi Matar stressed that to reporters after his client was formally indicated by a Chautauqua County Grand Jury on second-degree attempted murder and second-degree assault, both felonies, during a court appearance on Thursday afternoon.
Prosecutors stood strong in their request to deny bail, citing that the New Jersey resident has no other connection to the area, and that, bail itself could be funded by outside entries; acknowledging the decades old $3 million dollar bounty on Rushdie.
An effort by Matar’s lawyer, Chautauqua County Public Defender Ned Barone, seeking bond failed and Matar will continue to be held within the Sheriff’s Custody.
However, Barone was successful in asking Judge David Foley to consider a gag order in order to preserve the right to a fair trial. While Foley denied a gag order specifically, he did tell lawyers involved to not give interviews past today.
“We don’t want to taint any prospective juror more than it has already been done in this county,” said Barone. “The more things are leaked, the more things are spread out there, is going to influence the jurors in this county, and the opinions they are forming.”
The public defender said “several hundred phone calls” have been placed to Matar while in custody. One of the calls ultimately went though, with the accused speaking to the New York Post, in which, Matar talked about disliking Rushdie and praised Iran’s late supreme leader.
“It’s never in a defendant’s interest to go public, clearly that individual might have an agenda, I felt,” said DA Jason Schmidt. “Certainly, that’s not a statement being made to law enforcement, so that’s something I can use.”
DA Schmidt called the attack “preplanned.” He also addressed the possibility of labeling this a hate crime.
“The way the hate crime statue works in New York State, it serves as an enhancement device so that, let’s say, a B level felony can go up a step, but we are looking at that,” said Schmidt. “We chose not to indict it for reasons, that it is important to us, to go where the facts meet the law.”
The next step for both the DA and Public Defender, is to review the evidence.
“We’re moving along as we should, the indictment has been handed up, we’ve appeared, so now let’s get into it, let’s get the discovery going, let’s start looking at things, and we’ll go from there,” said Barone.
Judge Foley also issued a temporary order of protection for Matar to stay away from both Salman Rushdie and Henry Reese, cofounder of Pittsburgh’s City of Asylum, who suffered a gash to his forehead, bruising and other minor injuries while on stage.
Matar’s next court appearance will be September 7 at 9 a.m. for an evidence discovery conference.