Following a five-week jury trial, three Somali men were convicted Monday on charges that they hijacked a sailboat in 2011 off the coast of Africa and killed the four Americans they found on board.
Ahmed Muse Salad, Abukar Osman Beyle and Shani Nurani Shiekh Abrar each could face the possibility of the death penalty. The sentencing phase of the trial is set to begin July 22 in U.S. District Court.
After hugging prosecutors and FBI agents who investigated the hijacking, members of the victims‚Äô families declined to comment on the verdict. Prosecutors and defense attorneys also declined to comment.
The charges stemmed from the deaths of four Americans on Feb. 22, 2011, on a 58-foot yacht named Quest. The victims were Scott and Jean Adam, a California couple who owned the Quest, and Phyllis Patricia Macay and Robert Riggle, both of Seattle, who had joined them on the voyage.
FBI agents, Navy officials, medical examiners, members of the victims‚Äô families and convicted pirates who were involved in the fatal hijacking testified during the trial. According to prosecutors and court records, the Adams and their friends were asleep at sea Feb. 18 when 19 men boarded the yacht armed with assault rifles and a rocket-propelled grenade launcher. They took control and began to sail for Somalia, where they intended to conduct ransom negotiations.
The hijackers never made it to shore, however, and four days of negotiations at sea with Navy officials failed.
Prosecutors said one of the pirates fired a rocket-propelled grenade at the American guided missile destroyer Sterett. Shortly thereafter, Salad, Beyle and Abrar opened fire on the hostages.
Defense attorneys argued at trial that there was no evidence proving their clients were responsible for the shootings. They questioned the veracity of the convicted pirates who testified for the prosecution. They said those witnesses hoped to get lighter sentences by testifying.
Eleven of the Somali men who were on the boat already have pleaded guilty to their involvement in the hijacking. All were sentenced to life sentences.
Salad, Beyle and Abrar were convicted Monday on all counts ‚Äì 26 apiece.
U.S. District Judge Rebecca Beach Smith has not ruled on a defense motion that claims Salad has a mental disability and should not be subject to the death penalty.