Hudak, Family Thankful for Jurors

When Canadian Thanksgiving rolled around Oct. 13, David Hudak had been separated 14 months from everything he was thankful for   —   in jail without bail, for all he knew, forever.

His wife, Leslie, and two sons Devlyn, 4, and Teagan, 2, were at home in Vancouver, Canada, and his parents Bob and Sandy were on the central coast of Vancouver Island. By the time the U.S. Thanksgiving arrived, it was party time.    

What a difference a jury makes. Jurors acquitted the 41-year-old Canadian of charges he provided military training to foreign soldiers without a license and stockpiled hundreds of missile warheads at his counterterrorism school. Now, those jurors top the list of things the Hudaks are thankful for. Hudak's parents and his defense team had an unprecedented party for the jurors   —   without Hudak, who was still in jail at the time   —   and Hudak himself reiterated their sentiments in an interview with The Associated Press on Friday. Jurors were smart enough to understand what his lawyers were bright enough to get into the record, he said. "It took 15-1/2 months, but the truth finally came out   —   all of it. Not the edited version, not the made-up version, not the wishful-thinking version, the truth. Our tactic was just present the truth," Hudak said.    

Hudak was acquitted Nov. 19 of nine counts, including exporting military training without a license, using explosives during commission of a felony and possessing an unregistered destructive device. "It looked impossible in the beginning," his mother said over coffee at a downtown hotel. "There was such a mountain against him." Hudak had been accused of stockpiling more than 2,400 mini-warheads for shoulder-launched missiles at his counterterrorism facility in southern New Mexico   —   a subsidiary of his Vancouver-based company, International Hydro-Cut Technology Corp. which designs and manufactures explosive entry systems. Only no missiles and no triggers were found. And trial testimony showed that a subsidiary of Halliburton Co. sold the items as commercial demolition charges.  

Hudak had earned some renown as an explosives expert, designing charges to sink mothballed ships to create artificial reefs off the Canadian shore, or to be used in hostage rescues. He'd also been consulted about finding safer ways of explosives disposal. "He's done more to make the world a safer place than most people ever do in their lifetime," wife Leslie Hudak said, speaking from Vancouver. "It was horrible the way they tried to portray him."    

Prosecutors also had claimed Hudak knew he lacked State Department licensing when he gave soldiers from the United Arab Emirates military training last year under a $12.5 million contract. Hudak testified that his company, High Energy Access Tools, had provided similar training for soldiers from Canada, Singapore and Israel without licensing. Jury foreman John J. Turner summed up the acquittal: "The jurors felt the prosecution never really proved their case within a reasonable doubt."    

Afterward, jurors sent thank-you cards to defense attorneys Bob Gorence and Tim Padilla, who organized a post-trial get-together last week at a local restaurant. "It gave us a chance to meet the parents of David Hudak, whom we had seen in the courtroom but never met," Turner said. Leslie Hudak, who remained in Canada with the children throughout the trial, thanked the panel for its diligence. "It was an awful lot to ask, to listen all those weeks and really listen and absorb it," she said. "From everything I've heard about the jury, they were wonderful." The U.S. attorney's office issued a statement afterward: "Obviously we're disappointed, but the jury has spoken. We respect the jury's verdict." Hudak missed the jury party because the U.S. Bureau of Immigration Customs Enforcement had ordered Hudak detained without bond for an alleged visa violation. He was transferred to an ICE detention facility in El Paso, Texas, where he spent an extra week in custody.    

Hudak was released in El Paso on Wednesday and had to find his own way back to Albuquerque for the long-awaited reunion with his parents Thanksgiving Eve. "They (ICE) just dropped him off at the gate," Padilla said. "My secretary went down and picked him up." Leslie Hudak said she hopes her husband can continue his work in New Mexico.  "For him to be denied that would be unfair," she said. She said their two young sons stayed in almost daily telephone contact with their father and prayed nightly for his safety. When he was released, she said, she and a family cat, Shredder, recognized Hudak's voice on the radio talking about how it felt to be free. "Shredder was leaning right up against the radio," she said. "Shredder probably thinks we've been keeping David inside the radio box all this time, and why won't I let him out?" It was a lonely Canadian Thanksgiving this year, she said. "We didn't have a turkey. We didn't do a normal Thanksgiving at all." But now, she said, one friend told her: “Please tell David that complete strangers now want to take him out for dinner.' It's going to be a very nice homecoming." 

November 29, 2003

By Richard Benke
The Associated Press