The defense in Michigan’s genital mutilation case is demanding the government turn over “the most significant piece” of evidence: Photos and videos of the genitalia of the young girls who are listed as the victims in the case.
The photos are key evidence because the defendants have always maintained that there was no cutting involved in the procedure, just a minor scraping. The government alleges it was more than that.
With trial two months away, the defense is claiming that prosecutors have either “failed or refused” to turn over crucial information that was requested months ago.
“Namely, the government has failed to provide the most significant piece of discovery in this case — the video and photographs of medical examinations conducted by the government’s expert,” defense attorney Matt Newburg wrote in a Tuesday filing that has drawn support from all of the accused.
Newburg is representing Farida Attar, who along with five others is accused of subjecting numerous girls to genital cutting procedures at her husband’s Livonia, Mich., clinic as part of a religious practice. Attar is accused of holding the girls’ hands to keep them calm while a doctor performed the procedure.
The six defendants — including two doctors, a physician’s wife and and two mothers — are all members of a small Indian Muslim sect known as the Dawoodi Bohra.
So far, the government has identified six minor victims: four from the Detroit area; two from Minnesota. Federal prosecutors have said the chief suspect in the case, Dr. Jumana Nagarwala, 44, of Northville, Mich., may have performed the procedure on up to 100 young girls over the last dozen years.
But the defendants maintain they never engaged in any actual cutting, but rather only scraped membrane from the genitalia as part of a religious practice. They believe the government has exaggerated the case and are now demanding to see the government’s photographs and videos of the alleged victims’ genitalia so they can prepare for trial.
According to court documents, the photos and videos will be shown at trial. They were taken by Dr. Dena Nazer, who performed medical exams on 13 minor Bohra girls based on concerns that they were victims of genital cutting.
According to court documents, Nazer used a video colposcopy to magnify the genitalia up to 15 times its actual size. Based on her observations, court records state, she concluded that genital mutilation procedures had been performed on the girls, triggering indictments.
But the defense doesn’t trust her findings, claiming Nazer has falsely diagnosed some of the girls as having been victims of genital mutilation “when in fact they have not.”
One of the key issues in this case, the defense maintains, is whether or not female genital mutilation actually took place. The defense argues it did not; the government disagrees, saying it has medical proof that it did occur and statements from the victims who said they cried during and after the procedure and were told to keep it a secret.
The government, meanwhile, has offered to let the defense see the videos and photos — but not copy them. Specifically, Assistant U.S. Attorney Sara Woodward has offered to let the defense view the photographs and video in an FBI office, but without any recording devices, including cellphones. And if the defense wants a medical expert to review the materials, the government says, it must confirm that the expert is a licensed medical professional and has a specialty in either child abuse, pediatrics, obstetrics or gynecology.
The defense believes that’s too restrictive.
“The defense is not only entitled to inspect the photographs and videos, but also to copy them,” attorney Newburg writes, stressing the pictures and photos could offer information helpful to the defendants.
“The value of these videos and photographs cannot be underestimated,” Newburg wrote.
U.S. District Judge Bernard Friedman will ultimately decide the issue.
Attar’s husband, Fakhruddin Attar, 53, of Farmington Hills, Mich., is accused of letting Nagarwala use his clinic to perform the procedures on minor girls.
Except for Nagarwala, the defendants are free on bond. The trial is scheduled for Oct. 10.
If convicted, Nagarwala and Attar face up to life in prison; Farida Attar faces up to 20 years.
Originally posted on USA Today: