Atty. Lynne Stewart, a Veteran Civil Rights Lawyer, Was Sentenced to 28 Months in Prison. The Judge Allowed Her to Remain Free Pending the Outcome of an Appeal.
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Lawyer Gets Prison Term in Terrorism Case
By JULIA PRESTON and MATTHEW SWEENEY
New York Times
PANW Editor's Note: There is additional information available on the Lynne Stewart case on the following URL:
Also you can listen to an interview with Atty. Lynne Stewart which was broadcast this morning on Democracy Now! hosted by Amy Goodman. Just log on to the URL below:
Lynne F. Stewart, the firebrand lawyer who was charged as a terrorist for helping a client in prison on terrorism charges to communicate with his followers, was sentenced today to 28 months in federal prison, far less than the 30 years the government had sought.
Prosecutors had argued that Ms. Stewart repeatedly flouted the law to aid the violent designs of Sheik Omar Abdel Rahman, who was sentenced to life in prison after he was convicted in plots to blow up five New York landmarks and assassinate Egypt’s president. Ms. Stewart represented him at his 1995 trial.
The government said she and two men convicted with her helped the sheik transmit messages to the group’s leaders in defiance of prison restrictions.
The Bush administration has touted Ms. Stewart’s conviction as a major counterterrorism achievement, and prosecutors had asked Judge John G. Koeltl of Federal District Court in Manhattan to sentence the 67-year-old lawyer to prison for what would essentially be the rest of her life.
But in his remarks, the judge demonstrated that he did not believe Ms. Stewart represented the threat the government described.
There was “no evidence that any victim was in fact harmed” by her actions, the judge said. He cited her 30-year career as a government-appointed lawyer to “the poor, the disadvantaged and the unpopular.”
“It is no exaggeration to say that Ms. Stewart performed a public service not only to her clients but to the nation,” he said, adding that she did not choose her cases to become wealthy.
Ms. Stewart will be released on bail, pending an appeal that her lawyers are expected to file on her behalf.
After the hearing, a beaming Ms. Stewart spoke outside the courtroom, where dozens of her supporters and reporters had been waiting for her.
“This is a great victory against an over-reaching government,”
she said, holding a bouquet of flowers she had been handed.
“I do hope we will be vindicated on appeal,” she said.
During the hearing, the judge noted that as a result of her conviction 20 months ago, Ms. Stewart lost her license to practice law and is banned from having any contact with her former client.
“The occasion for the crimes to be repeated will be nil,” he said.
But in turning down her request for no prison time at all, the judge indicated that she was not without culpability in this case, pointing to what he called “an irreducible core of very severe criminal conduct.”
Another defendant, Mohamed Yousry, the Arabic translator who was convicted of helping Ms. Stewart smuggle Mr. Abdel Rahman’s messages out of prison, was sentenced to 20 months, even though the government had sought 20 years for him.
The third defendant, Ahmed Abdel Sattar, 47, a Staten Island postal worker, received the stiffest penalty, a 24-year sentence. He was convicted of negotiating with the militants by telephone. The government had asked that he be given a life term because he was convicted of conspiracy to kill and kidnap people in a foreign country.
The judge said he departed from the federal sentencing guidelines for Mr. Sattar because no one was killed or injured as a result of the crimes and because of Mr. Sattar’s lack of previous crimes and restrictive prison conditions.
"I am not a terrorist, your honor," Mr. Sattar told the judge before he was sentenced, The Associated Press said.
"I am not a violent person. I am a human being. I am an American. I am a Muslim who practices and believes strongly in his religion," Mr. Sattar said.
When Ms. Stewart, long an abrasive advocate of anti-government causes, arrived at the courthouse this morning, she was surrounded by supporters who cheered and applauded for her. Some of them held up a banner that read, “We love you Lynne, and all you stand for.”
Others chanted: "Free Lynne. Free Lynne."
As she entered the federal courthouse, Ms. Stewart shouted to them “I love you” and “I’m hanging in there.”
Her defense lawyer, Elizabeth Fink, said Ms. Stewart would not survive prison because of her health.
“If you send her to prison, she’s going to die. It’s as simple as that,” she said, according to The A.P.
Ms. Stewart recently recovered from breast cancer, but she said before her sentencing that she feared it would return in prison.
Ms. Stewart still denies that she acted to further any violent goals of the sheik. In documents they submitted to persuade Judge Koeltl to be lenient and give her no prison time, Ms. Stewart’s lawyers said their client is newly remorseful about “ill-advised” moves on behalf of the sheik.
“I still believe it was justifiable — but perhaps not in the way that I did it,” Ms. Stewart said in an interview with The New York Times before her sentencing. She was speaking of her actions in June 2000 to violate strict prison rules, known as special administrative measures, by publicizing a message from the sheik to his militant followers in Egypt.
In their sentencing motion, two assistant United States attorneys, Andrew Dember and Robin Baker, wrote that Ms. Stewart’s actions “should be offensive to those actually zealously defending criminal defendants within the bounds of the law.”
“Stewart’s criminal conduct, which lasted more than two years, was both extremely dangerous and devious,” they said.
There was never any question during the eight-month trial that Ms. Stewart had broken the rules by releasing the sheik’s statement, which said he no longer supported a cease-fire by his followers in Egypt.
Ms. Stewart admitted in the interview with The Times that she became too close to the sheik, insisting it was because of his deteriorating health and sanity after years in solitary confinement, not any affinity with his Islamic fundamentalism.
“I ignored any warning signs,” Ms. Stewart said. “I led with my heart instead of my head and thought it would be all right.”
Besides the material support conviction, Ms. Stewart also was convicted of defrauding the government and making false statements for breaking her promise to abide by special rules the government imposed on the sheik to prevent him from communicating with his followers.
US lawyer jailed on terror charge
A US civil rights lawyer convicted of aiding terrorism by passing messages from a jailed client to his followers has been imprisoned for 28 months.
Lynne Stewart, 67, was found guilty in February 2005 of helping Islamic cleric Omar Abdel Rahman contact radical disciples in Egypt.
Abdel Rahman was jailed for life in 1995 for planning attacks in New York.
Prosecutors had recommended Ms Stewart, who told the judge she was not a traitor, be given a 30-year sentence.
Before the trial, the veteran attorney had asked for leniency.
"The government's characterisation of me and what occurred is inaccurate and untrue," she wrote in a letter to the judge.
"It takes unfair advantage of the climate of urgency and hysteria that followed 9/11."
But prosecutors said during the trial that by passing messages from Abdel Rahman, Ms Stewart broke government restrictions on his right to communicate with the outside world.
Some of the messages to the cleric's overseas followers included incitement to violence, they said.
Announcing the sentence, US District Judge John Koeltl described Ms Stewart's actions as "extraordinarily severe criminal conduct", the Associated Press reported.
But he said that in her 30-year career representing many controversial figures, she had "performed a public service, not only to her clients, but to the nation".
Ms Stewart - the only US lawyer to face charges linked to terrorism - has become a well-known figure, with clients ranging from gangsters to left-wing activists.
Since her indictment in 2002, she has spoken at rallies and been the subject of a television documentary. Her sentencing was delayed while she underwent treatment for breast cancer.
Supporters of the lawyer gathered at the court in New York, carrying banners and chanting slogans.
Two co-defendants were also sentenced.
US postal worker Ahmed Sattar was given 24 years in prison for conspiracy to murder, while Arabic translator Mohammed Yousry received a 20-month jail term for supporting the conspiracy.
Story from BBC NEWS:
Published: 2006/10/16 21:39:39 GMT