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Judge Denies Harvard Professor Charles Lieber's Request for a New Trial

Harvard professor Charles M. Lieber, left, exits the John J. Moakley United States Courthouse in December 2021 alongside his attorney, Marc L. Mukasey.
Harvard professor Charles M. Lieber, left, exits the John J. Moakley United States Courthouse in December 2021 alongside his attorney, Marc L. Mukasey. By Mayesha R. Soshi

UPDATED: September 2, 2022, at 5:17 a.m.

A federal judge on Thursday rejected Harvard professor Charles M. Lieber’s request for a new trial or an acquittal, another legal blow to the embattled research chemist who was convicted last year of lying to the government about his ties to a Chinese government-run recruitment program.

United States District Court Judge Rya W. Zobel ’53 denied Lieber’s request in an order released Thursday afternoon, rebuffing arguments made by his lawyers, who said his conviction was a “manifest injustice.”

Attorneys for Lieber argued before Zobel in March that the scientist’s statement to Department of Defense investigators saying he “wasn’t sure” how China categorized him was literally true because he could not know China’s state of mind.

Zobel rejected the argument on Thursday, citing Lieber’s emails discussing a Thousand Talents Program contract and his post-arrest interview with the FBI.

“The decisive issue was Defendant’s state of mind, not China’s,” Zobel wrote in her decision Thursday, adding that the evidence presented at trial “was sufficient for a jury to find literal falsity of the statements as charged.”

Lieber’s attorneys also claimed there was insufficient evidence he had intentionally avoided reporting his foreign bank account containing money received through the TTP. Zobel denied the contention, noting that at trial, Lieber’s accountant testified he sent the professor letters on the reporting requirement, which Lieber signed.

“On this evidence, the jury could find that Defendant knew about the reporting requirement for calendar year 2014 and willfully failed to meet it,” Zobel wrote.

Zobel also rejected the claim that the court had not properly instructed the jury, writing that Lieber’s attorneys did not object to the instructions before deliberation took place.

The Thursday decision reaffirmed an October 2021 court order allowing Lieber’s post-arrest FBI interview to be admitted as evidence in the case. In the interview, Lieber told agents he “wasn’t completely transparent” with DOD investigators previously. Lieber’s attorneys contended the video of the interview should not have been presented to jurors, asserting that investigators ignored Lieber’s request for an attorney.

Lieber is now scheduled to be sentenced on Jan. 11, 2023, just over one year after a jury convicted him on all six felony charges brought by federal prosecutors. Lieber could receive up to 26 years in prison and up to $1.2 million in fines.

“We are disappointed by the Court’s decision, but we’re not giving up the fight,” Lieber’s lead defense attorney, Marc L. Mukasey, wrote in a statement Thursday.

Lieber did not respond to a request for comment.

—Staff writer Ariel H. Kim can be reached at Follow her on Twitter @ArielH_Kim.

—Staff writer Brandon L. Kingdollar can be reached at Follow him on Twitter at @newskingdollar.

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