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United States v. Knox

September 2, 2008


Appeal from the United States District Court for the Northern District of Illinois, Eastern Division. No. 06 CR 917-Suzanne B. Conlon, Judge.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Tinder, Circuit Judge.

ARGUED MAY 9, 2008

Before FLAUM, KANNE, and TINDER, Circuit Judges.

Appellant Prince Solomon Knox entered the United States as part of a refugee resettlement program. He was later indicted and convicted essentially for lying to the United States government by denying involvement with armed rebel groups in connection with his admittance into the country. We address three main issues in this appeal-a venue question; Knox's request, which the district court denied, to go to Africa for investigation/depositions; and two challenges to the sufficiency of the evidence.

I. Background

During the 1990s Liberia was in the midst of several civil conflicts. The Department of State, the Office of United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, and the Department of Homeland Security ("DHS") began a United States resettlement program for Liberians in Côte d'Ivoire (a.k.a. the Ivory Coast) who could not return to Liberia or remain in Côte d'Ivoire because of the civil unrest. Eligible individuals could apply to enter the United States as refugees. Defendant Prince Solomon Knox was from Sierra Leone, but his wife, Elizabeth Knox, from Liberia, could apply for her entire family. Knox, Elizabeth Knox, and their daughter applied under this program. Of course, to be admitted, applicants had to meet the qualifications, one of which, relevant here, deemed persons who had belonged to or assisted disfavored armed groups ineligible.

There are three such rebel groups we concern ourselves with in this case: the National Patriotic Front of Liberia ("NPFL"), the Independent National Patriotic Front of Liberia ("INPFL"), and the Revolutionary United Front ("RUF"). The RUF was known for grievous human rights violations, the disturbing details of which are unnecessary to recount for our present purposes. See Revolutionary United Front, Revolutionary_ United_Front (last visited Aug. 4, 2008); see also Kamara v. Attorney General of the United States, 420 F.3d 202, 207 (3d Cir. 2005) (describing some of the RUF's "grievous human rights violations"). The State Department has designated the RUF as a terrorist organization on the terrorist exclusion list since December 2001.

On December 9, 2003, a State Department employee interviewed the Knox family in Abidjan, Côte d'Ivoire. At that time, in response to questions from DHS immigration officer David Radel, Knox denied that he had ever been a member of disfavored armed groups, denied that he had assisted them, and denied having served or participated in military service or armed conflict. Similarly, on Form I-590, Registration for Classification as Refugee, Knox answered that he had no membership in and provided no aid to armed groups. He also answered "none" when directed on the form to list "political, professional or social organizations of which I am now or have been a member or with which I am now or have been affiliated with since my 16th birthday." Radel also completed Form G-646, Sworn Statement of Refugee Applying for Admission, into the United States on Knox's behalf. Knox answered "no" to the following questions: "Have you ever provided support, including housing, transportation, communications, funds, documents, weapons or training for any person or organization that has ever engaged in or conspired to engage in sabotage, kidnaping, assassination, hijacking, or any other form of terrorist activity?" and "Have you ever been a representative or member of a terrorist organization or a member of a group which endorses terrorist activity?" These and other similar statements are also confirmed in Radel's written notes of the interview.

Radel recommended that Knox be resettled in the United States on or about December 9, 2003. Knox entered the United States on April 14, 2004, through the Chicago O'Hare international airport. He presented the I-590 Form stamped by Radel to the DHS officer at O'Hare. Knox then moved to St. Louis, Missouri. It was in Missouri that Knox was arrested on December 21, 2006. The government had come to believe that Knox had belonged to or sup-ported the RUF, NPFL, and/or INPFL, and therefore, lied on the forms and to Radel.

Knox was charged in a four-count indictment-two counts for making materially false statements to federal agents and two counts for visa fraud, in violation of 18 U.S.C. §§ 1001 and 1546. The first count addressed lying under oath on Form I-590, which was submitted at O'Hare to gain entry. The second was for false statements on Form G-646. Count Three was for making similar false statements to Radel in Côte d'Ivoire. Count Four was for lying to an Immigration and Customs Enforcement agent on or about March 29, 2006, "in the Eastern District of Missouri and Northern District of Illinois." (It appears that this "lie" was Knox claiming he had never held a gun, a statement made in a recorded telephone call between Knox and a government agent.) The district court found Knox indigent and appointed counsel.

The factual crux of the case is whether Knox lied about his involvement in these rebel groups. The majority of the events related to the charges occurred in Sierra Leone, Liberia, and Côte d'Ivoire. Accordingly, the defense sought to investigate and possibly depose potential witnesses in West Africa. Knox filed a written application for authorization of extraordinary and substantial travel and expert witness expenses with the intent to ultimately take foreign depositions under Federal Rule of Criminal Procedure 15. The district judge denied the application without prejudice due to "vagueness" and a "failure to address the legal basis for taking foreign depositions in three unidentified West African countries."

Knox filed another motion for leave to take foreign depositions and identified four prospective witnesses by name and address who were believed to have personal first-hand knowledge concerning whether the defendant was a member of any of the relevant groups. Knox also pointed out that the government would be bringing over witnesses from Africa. The court gave Knox an opportunity to supply additional information (costs, etc.), including in camera disclosures of the basis for believing the witnesses would appear voluntarily, how they would be contacted, etc. The government also filed its opposition to Knox's request(s). The court concluded that the defense did not provide enough detailed information, Knox having only explained that travel to West Africa was necessary to investigate, locate, and interview these individuals and that then more information would be available. The court found this "problematic and unworkable." The defense could not provide the requisite notice of when and where the depositions would occur. The district court also faulted Knox for failing to address the legality of the proposed investigations under the sovereign laws of the relevant foreign nations or the diplomatic implications to the United States. The court found it "speculative" that Knox's proposed depositions would ever even occur or that they would preserve material evidence under these unreliable circumstances. The court, in a separate ruling, also denied expenses for travel and expert services in Africa. Knox persisted nonetheless, filing an emergency motion and an amended emergency motion for the district court to reconsider. The district court was not persuaded, and the court denied the motions for reconsideration.

At trial the government's witnesses testified to the following: they saw Knox serving as a bodyguard for an RUF leader, saw him carrying an AK-47 rifle, saw him at RUF meetings, observed him with RUF members, heard him go by the name of a leader of the INPFL, saw him in RUF apparel, heard him brag about being a rebel fighter, overheard him tell about killing a family, and knew that he was having an affair with an RUF leader's wife. Knox's only trial witness was his estranged wife, who hadn't met him until 1996 or 1997 (a government witness testified regarding events dating as far back as 1992). She denied ever seeing him in rebel garb or associating with the rebel groups. She admitted to a 7-8 month separation and admitted that Knox never took her to his home and that he told her it was none of her business who his people were when she asked. The government also elicited testimony that Knox hit her and threatened to take their daughter shortly before their interviews with the State Department.

At the close of the government's case the defendant made a Rule 29 motion for acquittal, but cited no specific grounds. He renewed the motion after closing arguments. The jury convicted on all four counts. Knox was sentenced to 12 months' imprisonment and three years of supervised release. His sentence was completed on or about December 14, 2007. Knox is currently in custody ...

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