A Japanese terrorist suspect was escorted by state troopers with M-16 automatic rifles as he appeared in court Friday to plead not guilty to possession of explosives and fraudulent use of a passport.
Yu Kikumura, 36, according to Japanese authorities may be linked to the terrorist Japanese Red Army, the group held responsible for the bombing of a U.S. military club in Italy this month. He was shackled hand and foot as he stood before U.S. District Judge Alfred Lechner.Bomb-sniffing dogs checked the courtroom before the hearing, a state police helicopter flew over the federal courthouse and the Holland Tunnel from New York was closed while Kikumura was driven through from a federal lockup in Manhattan.
Lawyers William Kunstler and Ronald Kuby, known for representing radical defendants, accused the government of trying to prejudice the case by treating Kikumura like a "dangerous animal." They also argued that the case was assigned to Lechner, a recent Reagan appointee, because he is one of the most conservative federal judges in New Jersey.
"We're very concerned that in a case like this, where the government has asked for (a sentence of) 90 years, that Mr. Kikumura's constitutional rights be preserved," Kuby said outside the courthouse.
Assistant U.S. Attorney John Lacey told reporters all decisions about security were made by the U.S. Marshal's Service and that the state troopers were part of a joint state-federal anti-terrorism task force.
"You know that this man was picked up with three very powerful explosive devices," Lacey said. "He had a fraudulent passport in his possession. Those facts would indicate that this man might present some type of danger. That may well be what the marshal's office took into consideration."
U.S. Attorney Samuel Alito said in court he was insulted by the suggestion that the government shopped for a conservative judge. Federal cases are generally assigned to judges on a rotation basis.
Lechner set a tentative trial date of June 13 for Kikumura, who was spotted acting suspiciously on the New Jersey Turnpike and arrested April 12.