Jury deliberations start in Muslim students' trial

By the Associated Press | September 20, 2011 | 10:25 PM EDT

SANTA ANA, Calif. (AP) — Jury deliberations began Tuesday in the trial of 10 Muslim students charged with disrupting a speech by an Israeli diplomat at the University of California, Irvine.

Jurors must decide whether the students broke the law or were exercising a right to demonstrate in a case that has stirred a spirited debate about free speech in Irvine, an affluent suburb south of Los Angeles.

In their closing arguments, prosecutors said the students carefully planned their protest during Ambassador Michael Oren's February 2010 speech about U.S.-Israel relations. They argued the students acted as censors when they repeatedly shouted at Oren and infringed on the rights of 700 people who had gone to the campus that evening to hear him.

Defense lawyers don't dispute that the students planned to protest at the speech.

They argued that the students acted within the law by doing what other demonstrators have done during campus lectures. Those people shouted at speakers but weren't arrested or sanctioned, they said.

The students face misdemeanor charges of conspiring to disrupt a meeting and disrupting a meeting. If convicted, they face sentences ranging from probation with community service and fines to a year in jail.