US man cleared of air rage over jet diverted to Belfast may now sue
An American tourist accused of endangering a flight from Rome to Chicago was yesterday acquitted of all charges - and is now free to pick up the threads after his life was put on hold for the prosecution.
A jury at Antrim Crown Court took less than an hour to find Jeremiah Mathis Thede (42) not guilty of acting in a manner likely to negligently endanger an aircraft.
Mr Thede's lawyer Patrick Madden, of Madden & Finucane, said last night that Mr Thede was now considering legal proceedings against United Airlines seeking compensation for the 10-month ordeal he faced.
The flight in June last year landed in Belfast after crew claimed they became concerned at Mr Thede's behaviour.
Last night his lawyer called on the airline to "reflect" on the way it dealt with customer complaints.
"Mr Thede was acquitted by unanimous verdict after just 30 minutes of deliberations," said Mr Madden
"He is relieved to have his name cleared after being held in this jurisdiction for 10 months. His passport has now been returned and he looks forward to returning home to his family and friends in California.
"This was an unusual but important case because the prosecution case and the decision to divert the flight was based on misinterpretations and inaccurate statements from the cabin crew.
"Mr Thede was nothing other than courteous and polite when making his complaint to cabin crew. There was simply no credible evidence that he endangered the aircraft or that he acted in a way that was likely to endanger the aircraft."
The innocent man - from Berkeley near San Francisco - had previously described how he was down to his last dollars following a long European trip and problems with a credit card and had eaten only an apple during five hours waiting at Rome Airport for the delayed flight home.
He had said he requested crackers immediately upon boarding, then repeatedly during the flight, because he was hungry.
Unable to sleep, he went to the bathroom several times and searched through his luggage while organising contacts from his long European trip.
Flight attendants claimed he left his meal tray obstructing the aisle and alleged that his behaviour was odd.
Before sending them away, Judge Desmond Marrinan had told jurors it would be a fatal flaw to just take the crew's word for it, and counselled the panel to avoid rumour or speculation.
He said the key issues had included Mr Thede's alleged failure to obey United staff and whether passengers were likely to take matters into their own hands - which may have led to trouble or fighting.
A relief pilot disturbed from his sleep to deal with the incident had told the trial Mr Thede was unpredictable and his behaviour was odd.
The judge said: "He formed the view that the defendant was unwilling to obey instructions."
Mr Madden said his client was delighted and relieved at the verdict delivered by the jury of seven men and four women in half-an-hour. He will now return to the US.
After the verdict, a United Airlines spokesman said: "Although disappointed, we respect the decision of the jury in this matter.
"The safety of our customers and employees is United's highest priority."