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[whitespace] Al DeGuzman
DeGuzman's Defense: The trial of 20-year-old Al DeGuzman continues in Santa Clara County Superior Court this week, where his attorneys argue that their client was not a would-be terrorist, but a clinically depressed college student attempting to get help by getting caught.

Best-Laid Plans

Former student charged with De Anza College bombing plan waives right to jury trial in post-Sept. 11 climate

By Alex Ionides

AL DEGUZMAN'S hair is cut almost down to a clean shave, and his face is pale and puffy. He looks as if he has just awakened from a long sleep. The 20-year-old former De Anza college student sits quietly throughout his trial for planning to blow up his school, showing emotion only upon entering the courtroom each morning, when he smiles and waves to his family sitting in the audience chairs. His mother and father smile back and wave, appearing to miss him very much. His father then has to leave, as he has been subpoenaed by the prosecution to testify and is not allowed to remain in the courtroom while the trial is taking place.

DeGuzman's attorney, Barry Rekoon, says that there was "some sort of miscommunication" after DeGuzman was transferred from his cell at the Santa Clara

County main jail to the courthouse facilities, and that he had gone the first two days without being given his antidepressant medication.

"I've noticed a change in him over the last few days," Rekoon said Friday. "He seems to be a little bit down."

Craig Wormley, DeGuzman's other attorney, said that the young man's degenerating spirit might have more to do with a tape that was played on Thursday, the second day of his trial. The 20-minute recording was made by DeGuzman the night before his arrest. On it, he speaks of the destruction he intended to cause at De Anza College, and how, before ending his own life with a bullet, he would use guns and homemade bombs to kill "at least 20 humans."

"I think he just can't believe that it was his voice on the tape and that he said those things," Wormley said of his client. "It really hit him hard."

Runaway Potential

DeGuzman stands trial in Santa Clara County Superior Court, where he faces dozens of charges of possession of a destructive device and possession with the intent to injure persons or personal property. The former Independence High School yearbook editor has been held without bail for 14 1/2 months, after police searched his bedroom and found guns, homemade explosive devices and detailed plans for an attack at De Anza College January 2001.

DeGuzman's case is being heard by Superior Court Judge Robert P. Ahern, after DeGuzman waived his rights to a jury trial. Barry Rekoon, DeGuzman's attorney, said the defense felt "the post-Sept 11 climate might make it difficult to get a fair jury trial in such a case. The potential for a runaway jury was there."

Ahern alone will pass judgment on and sentence DeGuzman, who has no prior criminal record and was a bright student in school. Attorney Wormley said the best-case scenario for his client, who he has claimed suffered from severe depression and was trying to get caught, would "probably be a 10-year prison term," with DeGuzman eligible for parole after serving about eight years of the sentence. He said that the worst-case scenario could result in DeGuzman spending the rest of his life behind bars.

DeGuzman's arrest came after police were tipped off by a photo clerk at a San Jose Longs Drug Store, where DeGuzman had taken a roll of film to be developed, showing images of him posing with his arsenal of weapons.

The clerk, Kelly Bennett, the daughter of a police officer, was one of the witnesses who testified on the opening day of the trial. At one point during her testimony, the 19-year-old Bennett, hailed as a national hero in the days following DeGuzman's arrest, hastily left the courtroom after being overcome by emotion. Upon her return, Wormley asked her why she became upset, and she replied that she felt bad for having to point out DeGuzman as the suspect. "It hurts me a lot," she said.

Last Requests

The defense expects the trial to last no more than two weeks, with the judge's decision coming shortly after the defense and prosecution present their closing arguments. "A jury might take a while to come to a decision, whereas with a trial by judge the verdict is usually delivered very quickly," Rekoon said.

The prosecution's expert witnesses took the stand most of the day Friday and Monday, including Ken Muto, a six-year veteran with the San Jose Police Department and an expert in computer forensics.

Muto dissected DeGuzman's laptop computer after it was confiscated by police. Much of Muto's testimony centered on the contents of one particular folder that was found on the computer's hard drive, titled "The End."

The prosecutor in the case, Tom Farris, said that the folder and its contents would provide a "peek into DeGuzman's state of mind" during the approximately two years that he had spent constructing his plan. Documents in the folder contained such titles as "Last Requests" and "School Shootings for Dummies."

Wormley said that the prosecution will likely take the rest of this week to call remaining witnesses, and the defense will start calling its witnesses early next week. Witnesses for the defense will include friends of Al and those who knew him on a more personal level, Wormley said.

DeGuzman's attorneys have always maintained that their client was only living out an elaborate fantasy and that he had no intention of carrying out any of the acts he had meticulously detailed.

The defense hopes to convince the judge of this theory through the testimony of their star witness, Dr. John Podboy, who Wormley said met with DeGuzman many times over the past year during his incarceration and will testify as to his state of mind leading up to and at the time of his arrest.

Wormley said that while DeGuzman has remained in "relatively good spirits throughout the trial so far, he is very worried about the possibility of a long sentence."

"Al is a good kid," Wormley continued. "Obviously, people make mistakes in their life. And I'm sure Al would agree on this one being a huge mistake."

For more information, including an interview with defendant Al DeGuzman, see Metro's January 2002 cover story, "DeGuzman's Demons."

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From the April 18-24, 2002 issue of Metro, Silicon Valley's Weekly Newspaper.

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