Rushdie attack case: Witness identities to be concealed from defendant for safety

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MAYVILLE, N.Y. — Witnesses with information about the stabbing of Salman Rushdie in August will be kept temporarily confidential from the man preparing to stand trial for the attack as early as next year.

A judge in Chautauqua County Court on Wednesday issued an order of protection to conceal the identities of witnesses from defendant Hadi Matar, 24, of New Jersey, until 10 days before a potential trial.

Chautauqua County District Attorney Jason Schmidt said he requested the protective order because witnesses could face potential threats or intimidation given the "notoriety" of the Aug. 12 attack on stage at the Chautauqua Institution's amphitheater, which he described as "targeted" and motivated by the fatwa, or the death threat, issued by Iran's leadership against Rushdie over the author's 1988 novel "The Satanic Verses."

Hadi Matar, 24, center, arrives for his arraignment in the Chautauqua County Courthouse in Mayville, N.Y., on Aug. 13, 2022. At far left is defense attorney Nathaniel Barone. Matar who is accused of carrying out a stabbing attack against “Satanic Verses” author Salman Rushdie, has entered a not-guilty plea on charges of attempted murder and assault. An attorney for Matar entered the plea on his behalf during the arraignment hearing.

"The legislature in Albany has included in our statutes a mechanism whereby we can obtain from the court some degree of protectiveness in certain extraordinary circumstances," Schmidt said after Wednesday's hearing.

Chautauqua County Court Judge Dave Foley — who granted the order — said Matar's defense attorney, Nathaniel Barone, will be able to access the full disclosure of witness information. But disclosures to Matar will have witness names and contact information redacted.

Barone said he will appeal the decision.

"We believe that the prosecution clearly failed to demonstrate any factual threat at all, and that the decision unjustly infringes on our client's due process and constitutional rights," he said. "Our concern is not having the opportunity to include our client in our trial preparations, and I think it's important the accused always has that opportunity."

Barone said the Appellate Division could take a week or more to make a decision on the appeal.

Witnesses to be protected under the order include individuals who witnessed the attack; who constrained Matar after the attack; who rendered first aid to Rushdie and the second victim, Henry Reese; and who helped transport both victims to further medical care. Identities of law enforcement were not included in the protective order.

Prosecutors receive 60-day extension to present evidence

Foley also granted prosecutors a 60-day extension from Wednesday to present their evidence to the defense in compliance with the discovery statute.

The extension was requested by Schmidt after his office received more than 30,000 files of potential evidence gathered by law enforcement agencies. The evidence generally consists of written documents, supplementary police reports, videos and photographs and medical records, among other items.

Schmidt said the extension, which is allowable under New York state law under exceptional circumstances, helps put his office "on track."

"It positions us so that we can properly prosecute the matter and still preserve Mr. Matar's constitutional rights which we have to be mindful of," he said.

A discovery conference is scheduled for Nov. 17 at 9 a.m. in Chautauqua County Court.

Matar was apprehended on Aug. 12 after authorities say he rushed the amphitheater's stage and stabbed Rushdie, 75, and injured another speaker, Henry Reese, 73. On Aug. 18, he pleaded not guilty to second-degree attempted murder and second-degree assault.

He has been remanded to the Chautauqua County Jail without bail.

Rushdie, who underwent surgery at UPMC Hamot Erie, is recovering and able to talk, according to reports from the Associated Press. Reese, who suffered a minor facial injury, was released from an Erie hospital the day of the attack.

A.J. Rao can be reached at Follow him on Twitter @ETNRao.

This article originally appeared on Erie Times-News: Salman Rushdie attack case: DA granted protective order for witnesses