MEDINA — The attorney for a Somali immigrant accused of possessing an illegal African plant is attempting to pin responsibility on a friend who also was charged but failed to appear for trial last month.
Hassan Warsame, 35, of Portland, Maine, is accused of possessing 4 pounds of the plant, called khat, making it a first-degree felony punishable by three to 11 years in prison.
Khat contains a stimulant called cathinone, a drug that is legal in Somalia, other African countries and even the United Kingdom, but classified as a Schedule I controlled substance in the U.S.
Previously set for trial was Warsame’s friend, Abdullahi Handule, 38, also of Portland. Handule failed to appear for his Dec. 18 trial and a warrant was issued for his arrest.
At Warsame’s trial Tuesday, Sheriff’s Deputy Paul Schismenos testified that during a traffic stop on Oct. 31, 2011, he found about four bundles of khat weighing about half a pound in plain sight in a vehicle driven by Handule.
Warsame was the driver’s front-seat passenger, Schismenos said.
Handule and Warsame were arrested after police discovered more khat wrapped into 22 bundles in the trunk of Handule’s rented vehicle.
In his opening statements, Warsame’s attorney, David Sheldon, told the jury that Warsame didn’t know about the bundles in the trunk, and the khat in the car’s passenger area wasn’t his.
Warsame said Handule was going to Ohio to buy a truck in Columbus. Warsame said he tagged along to visit family, and the two met on Oct. 31 to head back home to Portland. At the time, Handule was a truck driver and Warsame was recently laid off.
Sheldon said Warsame only found out there was khat in the car a few hours before the traffic stop. He said Warsame told Handule that khat was illegal in the U.S., but stayed with his friend because he needed a ride back home to Portland.
Assistant Prosecutor Michael McNamara told jurors that Handule and Warsame jointly possessed the plants, and that Warsame didn’t have to own them to possess them.
“Warsame jointly and constructively possessed the khat. He knew about it and was engaged in transporting it back to Maine,” McNamara said.
He showed the jury a video recording of Warsame’s initial interrogation, during which Warsame admitted to eating two pieces of the plant while riding in the car.
The defense countered that “piece” could mean a full bundle or a single stem, adding that it’s unlikely Warsame consumed an entire bundle, which contains 20 to 40 individual stems.
If Warsame only ate two stems, Sheldon argued that didn’t constitute possessing a bulk amount of the drug.
Sheldon said that Warsame speaks English as a second language, so the Sheriff’s Office should have brought in a translator during his interrogation to avoid miscommunications.
During the prosecution’s video recording, Warsame tells deputies they do not understand him.
To help Warsame understand trial proceedings, the court brought in Ohio State University professor Jibril Mohamed as a translator.
The trial is set to continue at 9 a.m. today before Common Pleas Judge James L. Kimbler.
Kimbler said it’s likely the trial will wrap up today.
Contact reporter Nick Glunt at (330) 721-4048 or firstname.lastname@example.org.