By J. PATRICK PEPPER
DEARBORN — Attorneys still were questioning witnesses last week as of press time for this story in the trial of four Christian evangelists accused of breaching the peace at the Arab International Festival in June.
19th District Judge Mark Somers said during a court recess Friday morning that at least one witness still needed to testify before the six-member jury could begin deliberations. Somers indicated it was possible the trial could extend into this week, depending on how long the examination took. The trial, which began with jury selection on Monday Sept. 20, consumed most of Somers’ docket last week.
The case pits the city against defendants Nabeel Qureshi of Virginia, Negeen Mayel of California and New Yorkers Paul Rezkalla and David Wood. All four pleaded innocent to breach of peace charges, with Mayel also pleading innocent to an additional count of failure to obey a police officer’s order. Both offenses carry maximum penalties of 93 days in jail and a $500 fine.
The four were arrested June 18 after an Arab Fest volunteer filed a criminal complaint alleging they surrounded him, badgered him with questions while videotaping the incident and ignored his requests to be left alone, according to the police report.
The incident has been a flashpoint for controversy, with critics as prominent as former U.S. House of Representatives Speaker Newt Gingrich saying the city was persecuting Christians to appease its large Muslim population and violating the group’s first amendment rights. City officials have maintained that the group was there only to antagonize people and invite confrontation.
Irrespective of the outcome in the district court case, the controversy seems destined to continue. Robert Muise, the evangelists’ attorney, said previously he would file an appeal if the jury returns a “guilty” verdict, and also that he is preparing a federal civil suit against the city.