CLEVELAND (Asbarez)–On Wednesday January 24 Armenian activist Mourad Topalian was sentenced to 37 months of imprisonment on charges of supplying explosives used to bomb the Turkish mission to the United nations in 1980.
The trial began at 9:00 a.m. at the Cleveland federal courthouse. Topalian’s wife and children were present in the courtroom–along with various members of the Armenian-American community who turned out to support Topalian from different parts of the country. The courtroom reached full capacity–leaving many Armenia’s outside.
The prosecution invited four witnesses–the first being Bedford City Police Chief Robert Reid–who described the circumstances under which the explosives were removed from a public warehouse–and what methods were taken by police to neutralize the danger. The second witness called was Rose Brown–principal of a child care center near the warehouse–who spoke of the measures she took when she heard about the explosives. Thomas Waskom–an explosives expert–was the third witness–who gave details on the possible consequences of such an explosion. The final witness was Franklyn Rhodes of Wichita–Kansas–who was injured in the explosion of the Turkish mission to the United Nations in New York. Rhodes said despite his injury–he feels no hatred toward the Armenia’s.
The prosecution attempted to tie Topalian’s case to other anti-Turkish acts committed across the United States–however–Judge Aldrich said there was no proof of any such connection.
Turkish-American associations were represented by attorney Bruce Fine–who attempted to politicize the case and cast doubt on the validity of the Armenian Genocide. Defense attorney Mark Geragos warned Fine not to politicize the issue. This point was agreed to by Judge Aldrich.
The Defense brought to the stand explosives experts–Ken Armentrout–Bob Jones–John Mastepey–Jenny Sue Thornton–president of the local community college–"United Way" local chapter president Kenneth Michael Bens–along with Sister Linda Martin–principal of Topalian’s daughter’s preschool.
The witnesses praised Topalian’s character and his human’stic spirit–and his contributions as a public official.
Prosecutor Thomas Gruscinski (assistant US attorney)–urged the prosecution to indicate the level of damage which would have been caused by and explosion in the warehouse which could have affected the whole region. Gruscinski explained the way in which the warehouse was rented by Topalian’s former wife Lucy–where 13 firearms and 20 pounds of explosives and other bombs were stored.
Gruscinski then focused attention on Topalian’s personal life and claimed the defendant had manipulated his children against their mother–Topalian’s ex-wife. This comment received a loud protest from Topalian’s wife and children. The courtroom was thrown into a chaotic state. The bailiffs had to escort Topalian’s wife–Michelle–out of the courtroom.
The prosecution–in response–indicated the exaggerated nature of an accidental explosion if it were to happen–since the warehouse is located in an industrial area surrounded by other like facilities. Therefore–an explosion would not have caused as much harm as claimed by the prosecution since the area does not contain many households. Most of the damage would have actually been done on buildings.
Mourad Topalian–in his testimony–said the prosecution falsely described him to a point where he could not recognize himself. Topalian also stressed he has never manipulated his children against his ex-wife.
Judge Ann Aldrich read the page-long verdict which was written the previous the day. According to the verdict–the judge understands the difficult conditions faced by Topalian’s youngest daughter–Alik–who suffers from Leukemia. The judge also realizes Mourad Topalian being a respected personality among his peers. Nevertheless–the fact that he stored explosives cannot warrant silence on the part of the court. As a result–a 37 month imprisonment was sentenced in addition to a $6000 fine. Following his release–Topalian will remain under probation for three years.
After the trial–Defense Attorney Mark Geragos conducted a briefing at the Marriott Hotel–where he told reporters he believed Topalian would be imprisoned at least eight years when he first took the case. In response to a question as to the judges verdict being written a day earlier–Geragos said "you judge what you have seen."