Defense Rests in Robert Manning Case, but Defendant Prays to ‘be Back Soon’

The defense has rested its case in the monthlong trial of Robert Manning, the Los Angeles-born Israeli charged in connection with a 1980 mail-bomb killing.

The case is scheduled to go to the jury Wednesday afternoon, following final arguments by the defense and prosecution. Court observers believe that the jury of eight men and four women will deliver an early verdict, perhaps as soon as Friday.

Manning, 41, a resident of the West Bank settlement of Kiryat Arba, was flown to Los Angeles in July after losing a two-year legal battle to prevent his extradition from Israel.

The case became somewhat of a cause celebre in Israel, where Orthodox and nationalist groups bitterly protested turning a Jew over to foreign authorities.

Manning is accused of mailing a boobytrapped device to a Manhattan Beach, Calif., computer company in 1980. The device instantly killed the firm’s secretary, Patricia Wilkerson, when she followed written instructions to plug the device into an electric outlet.

If found guilty, Manning could be sentenced to life in prison.

Last week, the defense rested its case without calling Manning to the stand to testify on his own behalf.

After announcing the decision, defense attorney Richard Sherman briefly questioned Manning in a step described as “unusual” by U.S. District Judge Dickran Tevrizian.

“Is the decision (not to testify) made of your own free will?” asked Sherman, to which Manning answered “yes.”

“I have not coerced you to make this decision?” the lawyer continued, and his client answered “no.”

The tall, heavyset Manning, who wore a beard when he arrived from Israel, appeared in court cleanshaven and wearing a large black yarmulka and seemed to be in good spirits. Asked whether he had any message for his family and friends in Israel, Manning said, “I’m praying that I’ll be back soon.”

FUND SET UP FOLLOWING ADS IN JEWISH PAPERS

Rabbi Zvi Block, dean of the Aish Ha Torah Institute here and a close friend of Manning’s, said Manning had talked to his wife, Rochelle, by phone and they had “urged each other to be strong.”

Rochelle Manning, 53, and the couple’s two daughters are still in Kiryat Arba, but the Israeli Supreme Court ordered on Aug. 16 that she be extradited to the United States to face charges that she participated in the alleged crime with her husband.

Her lawyer has appealed to Israeli Justice Minister David Libai not to put the extradition order into force. Rochelle Manning was previously tried in Los Angeles on the same charges, but the jury deadlocked on a verdict in January 1989.

The Mannings were early members of the Jewish Defense League in Los Angeles. They immigrated to Israel in 1973, but they frequently returned to the United States since then. Both hold dual American and Israeli citizenship.

Block said that a defense fund had been established for Robert Manning through advertisements in Jewish newspapers and through appeals to friends and relatives to raise an estimated $50,000 for legal and expert-witness costs.

At the beginning of the trial, Sherman and Block protested that Manning was not receiving full kosher meals at a federal detention facility, despite judge’s orders, and that he was subsisting on raw vegetables and cereal.

Block said pita bread had recently been added to Manning’s diet but that the dispute had “been put on a back burner” to concentrate on the trial itself.

Some 10 relatives of Manning’s have been the only regular spectators at the trial, which has attracted almost no media coverage.

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