A second man charged in a series of attacks on synagogues that included the January firebombing of a house of worship where a rabbi and several family members were sleeping pleaded not guilty on Monday.
Aakash Dalal, 19, of New Brunswick, appeared in court shackled at the waist and wearing a prison-issued orange jumpsuit. He is accused of encouraging another defendant, Anthony Graziano, by showing him how to make the bombs, though Dalal is not believed to have participated in the acts themselves.
Attorney Chris DiLorenzo entered the not guilty plea on Dalal's behalf. Dalal faces charges including conspiracy, aggravated arson, bias intimidation and criminal mischief in the series of attacks.
"It's my opinion that he's being prosecuted more for the use of malicious words than criminal behavior," DiLorenzo said of the charges against Dalal. "Malicious words aren't criminal acts."
Bergen County Prosecutor John Molinelli has characterized Dalal as an instigator in the January firebombings, allegedly carried out by then-19-year-old Graziano. Molinelli has said Graziano was motivated by "anti-Jewish animus, a bias against them; an intent to harm them." He hasn't given a motive for Dalal's alleged actions.
Prosecutors say Graziano and Dalal, who both grew up in the northern New Jersey borough of Lodi, were childhood friends.
Graziano has pleaded not guilty to charges including nine counts of attempted murder. He initially was held on $5 million bail but that was later reduced by a judge to $2.5 million. Dalal, who was enrolled last semester at Rutgers University, is also being held on $2.5 million bail.
On the morning of Jan. 3, authorities responded to a fire at Congregation K'Hal Adath Jeshuran in Paramus, when members smelled gas in the building and contacted authorities. Fire and police officials determined an accelerant had been used in the rear of the building to start a fire. The fire had quickly burned itself out, and no injuries were reported.
Eight days later, police said Molotov cocktails were thrown at Congregation Beth El in Rutherford, igniting a fire in the second-floor bedroom of Rabbi Nosson Schuman's residence. The rabbi, his wife, five children and his parents were sleeping at the time and escaped serious injury.
A few days after Graziano's Jan. 24 arrest, authorities found several Molotov cocktails made from glass beer bottles that they said they were able to traced to Graziano, in a wooded area about 100 yards from the Paramus Jewish Community Center.
DiLorenzo said Monday that Dalal had been in New Hampshire volunteering with the Ron Paul campaign at the time of the attacks, and could not have participated.
He admitted that prosecutors were alleging that Dalal had been present for incidents that took place in the weeks leading up to the fire bombings, when police said anti-Semitic graffiti was discovered at synagogues in Hackensack and Maywood.
"Mere presence at the scene of a crime is not a crime," DiLorenzo said.