By Julia Spitz/Daily News staff
The MetroWest Daily News
Posted Nov 05, 2011 @ 11:51 PM
There are striking similarities between the cases of a Sudbury man charged with aiding al Qaeda and an Ashland man charged with plotting an attack on the Pentagon – including a surprising lack of interest.
The opening of Tarek Mehanna’s trial at the federal courthouse in Boston attracted a full complement of Boston-area TV and print reporters Oct. 27. Since then, there’s usually plenty of seating available in the benches reserved for press.
Friday’s bail hearing for Rezwan Ferdaus drew media attention, but I’m willing to bet that when his trial begins, no reporters will be flying in from Los Angeles to cover daily developments, as they did when Neil Entwistle was tried and convicted of killing his wife and daughter in Hopkinton.
The 2008 Entwistle trial was mobbed every day. Public interest was keen enough to support an entwistlemurdertrial.com website, in addition to updates throughout the day on mainstream media sites. Several reporters in attendance reminisced about the last time they’d seen one another at Michael Jackson’s trial on child molestation charges back in 2005.
There were two other murder trials going on in the same Middlesex Superior Court building at the time. But there wasn’t much jockeying for a seat when James Brescia was convicted of plotting the murder of Ed Schiller of Framingham, or when Waltham resident James Keown was sentenced to life in prison for poisoning his wife, Julie.
Not to downplay the heinous crimes committed by Entwistle, who murdered Rachel and baby Lillian in the home they’d rented in Hopkinton, but the lessons learned from his trial were similar to ones we’ve learned and relearned since the dawn of time: Good looks and/or money do not equal good character. A beautiful home offers no protection against domestic violence. Red flags are far more visible in hindsight. Narcissistic nutjobs are unlikely to show remorse. One man’s decisions can affect many, many lives. Two precious lives were stolen away.
We might learn a great deal more from the Mehanna trial and case against Ferdaus.
There certainly appear to be common threads.
Both are accused of plotting terror-related acts. Neither is accused of killing anyone. Neither is accused of treason.
Both grew up in similar surroundings. Both family homes are in upper-middle-class suburban neighborhoods in MetroWest.
Both are American citizens.
Both went to the local public high schools. Mehanna graduated from Lincoln-Sudbury and Ferdaus from Ashland High. Both are college graduates with degrees in science-related fields.
Both were raised in the Muslim faith, but not in radical or fundamentalist sects. Both appear to have been drawn to radical ideology in their early to mid-20s.
Both have a brother close in age who does not seem to have followed in his sibling’s footsteps.
Neither man is married.
Both have supporters who believe the men are being persecuted by an overzealous government that trampled on protected rights.
So are Mehanna and Ferdaus the “home-grown terrorists” officials warn will pose a greater threat in the future?
If the Department of Justice’s allegations are accurate, perhaps more attention on these cases can help us understand how and why these young men were drawn to jihadist ideals.
If the men’s supporters are right, attention on these cases can shed light on what law enforcement officials should be doing to prevent attacks on America.
Instead, we focus our attention on the trial of Dr. Conrad Murray, accused of giving Michael Jackson a lethal dose of tranquilizer.
And whether Lindsay Lohan is showing up to perform the court-mandated community service.
And who will score an exclusive interview with Amanda Knox, now that she’s been released from that Italian jail.
And what Casey Anthony is up to.
Certainly, if Murray is found guilty, we don’t want him practicing medicine, but, truthfully, none of us is likely to be on his patient list.
Few people, other than Anthony, believe she shouldn’t be punished for her daughter Caylee’s death. But although the precious little girl deserves justice, it’s unlikely her mother poses an imminent threat to average Americans.
The charges against the local men, on the other hand, do have nationwide implications.
But Mehanna’s trial is scheduled to be a long one. The testimony can be difficult to follow. The people involved aren’t celebrities. The public doesn’t seem to have much of an appetite for gavel-to-gavel coverage.
When it does end and a verdict is announced, certainly local media will be there.
And perhaps on that day, the story will beat out headlines like “Framingham man charged with using stolen credit card” on the Daily News’ website listings of “most popular” stories.
It’s still unlikely the rest of the country will have much of an idea what happened, or the precedents Mehanna’s and Ferdaus’ cases could set.
Instead, our attention will be focused on how the Jackson family is handling the Murray verdict.
And what Lindsay Lohan is wearing to court.
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