A terrorism trial delayed for two days by a defendant who claimed he saw ghosts and dead people resumed Wednesday after a judge coaxed the man out of his sleepy demeanor with a threat that he would be ousted from his trial.
U.S. District Judge Colleen McMahon revived Laguerre Payen, 28, by warning that she would interpret his wobbly head, closed eyes and uninterested silence as a decision not to attend his trial anymore unless he spoke when she talked to him. She asked him whether he wanted to face the charges that he and three others plotted to blow up synagogues and planes.
"Mr. Payen, do you want to be present in the courtroom?" McMahon asked after recounting her finding of a day earlier that he was faking mental illness.
Payen shifted in his wheelchair before whispering to his lawyer, Samuel Braverman, who leaned his ear toward his client's lips.
"He said to me three times: 'Yes, I want to be here,'" Braverman told the judge.
"You will not be allowed to disrupt the proceedings," McMahon warned.
Payen nodded his head and his lawyer told McMahon his client understood.
After testimony resumed before the jury, Payen drooped his head on the defense table, resuming his sleepy appearance in a trial filled with talk of killing and destruction.
McMahon rejected requests by lawyers for Payen's co-defendants that he be tried separately. A prosecutor had urged McMahon to keep Payen out of the courtroom if he did not want to be there. Several of the lawyers had expressed worries Tuesday that an outburst could lead to a mistrial.
But the judge concluded Payen was faking illnesses after a prison psychologist called his claim of hallucinations "very unlikely." The psychologist said Payen had reported hearing voices and seeing lights, the Virgin Mary, ghosts, dead people, bugs crawling on him and people demanding to play chess.
The concerns over Payen had interrupted the testimony of the government's star witness, Shahed Hussain, who was sent by the FBI in 2008 to infiltrate a mosque in Newburgh, a city north of New York City, and helped to build the case.
Hussain has testified about his dealings with the defendants as they allegedly constructed a scheme to blow up synagogues in the Bronx with remote-controlled bombs. They also were accused of wanting to use surface-to-air missiles to shoot down planes at the Air National Guard base in Newburgh.
All four defendants have pleaded not guilty to charges of conspiracy to use weapons of mass destruction and conspiracy to acquire and use anti-aircraft missiles to kill U.S. officers and employees.