Hosni Mubarak's lawyers said Tuesday there is no evidence that he ordered Egyptian security forces to open fire on protesters, as they challenged prosecution calls for the ousted president to be hanged.
Lawyer Farid al-Deeb cited what he said was testimony by Egypt's military ruler Field Marshal Hussein Tantawi and former spy chief Omar Suleiman in defence of Mubarak, who appeared in court on a stretcher.
"There is no evidence to prove that Mubarak gave orders to open fire on the protesters," said Deeb.
Mubarak's defence team has five days in which to challenge the prosecution's calls for him to face the death penalty over the killing of hundreds of pro-democracy protesters before he was toppled on February 11 last year.
Tantawi and Suleiman testified last year behind close doors and the court imposed a gag order on their testimony, but according to lawyers both have said they had no knowledge that Mubarak gave such orders.
On October 2, Tantawi himself said in a speech that Mubarak never ordered his security forces to fire on demonstrators who rose up and forced him to quit after 18 days of protests.
"Nobody asked us to open fire and nobody will open fire" on the people, Tantawi said at the time.
Deeb spent an hour listing Mubarak's achievements from the time of his birth in 1928 until his ouster, describing him as "a respectable man who is neither bloodthirsty nor aggressive".
"He is a just man, not a dictator... and a man like him cannot be held responsible for criminal acts like those he is accused of committing," Deeb told the court.
Deeb began his case by identifying himself as "the lawyer of he who served Egypt for 60 years, 30 of them in the armed forces and 30 as the president of the republic."
Mubarak, 83, was wheeled into court lying on a stretcher under a blanket, his eyes shielded by dark sunglasses.
Presiding judge Ahmed Refaat said the court had pledged to allow the defence to submit arguments and documents "that preserve the rights of the defendants."
After a two-hour hearing Refaat ended the hearing until a new session on Wednesday.
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Refaat has given the defence team 25 sessions until February 16 to make their case and Deeb said in published statements on Tuesday that he has requested five days to deliver his arguments.
Chief prosecutor Mustafa Suleiman sought the death sentence for Mubarak at a January 5 hearing, saying the former president "must have agreed on the killings" during violence which left more than 850 people dead.
Suleiman said co-defendant and former interior minister Habib al-Adly would have carried out Mubarak's orders to fire on protesters by issuing them to police commanders.
But a former judge and deputy of the Supreme Criminal Court told AFP on Tuesday that Mubarak cannot be sentenced to death under Egyptian law.
"In accordance with Egyptian law, the death sentence is handed down in four specific cases including premeditated murder and this does not concern the former president because there is no proof," said Ahmad Mekki.
"The penalty for murder without premeditation is 25 years in jail," Mekki added.
Six senior Adly aides are also being tried in the case while Mubarak's two sons, Gamal and Alaa, are on trial with their father on separate charges of corruption in the same court.
Meanwhile Egyptian newspapers quoted Deeb denying reports that Gamal Mubarak and his mother Suzanne gave him instructions on how to present his case.
The flagship government daily Al-Ahram said on Monday that Deeb would make surprise revelations during his defence.
Deeb told Al-Masry Al-Youm that Kuwaiti lawyers were among several attorneys who had joined the defence team but would not take an active part in arguing the case.
He also insisted Mubarak must lie on a hospital bed throughout the trial and not sit on a chair as he did during the last hearing.
"His hospital bed is equipped in case he suffers another stroke. If he sits on a chair, saving him will be difficult," Deeb is quoted as saying by Al-Masry Al-Youm.
Mubarak is being treated in a military hospital for a heart condition. His trial opened on August 3, after protesters stepped up demonstrations calling on the ruling military to try him and ex-regime officials.
A medical source quoted by Al-Masry Al-Youm said Mubarak is in no condition to be carried to court every day, and was expected to miss some sessions.