Attorney Lynne Stewart, convicted of helping an extremist cleric pass messages from prison to terrorist followers, deserves an enhanced sentence because of statements she made after her conviction and sentencing, U.S. prosecutors said.
A federal appeals court in New York in November ruled that Stewart, 70 should be resentenced in a way that reflects the “seriousness” of her crime. U.S. District Judge John Koeltl in Manhattan, who originally sentenced Stewart to 28 months in prison and is presiding over the case, has scheduled her resentencing for July 15.
Stewart was convicted by a federal jury in New York in 2005 for helping her former client, the blind Egyptian sheik Omar Abdel Rahman, smuggle messages to followers in defiance of U.S. prison restrictions. Stewart, who was free pending appeal, was ordered to prison Nov. 19 and is currently being held at a federal jail in lower Manhattan.
“Stewart has made it clear that if given the opportunity to engage in the unlawful conduct for which she now stands convicted she would do it again,” federal prosecutors in the office of Preet Bharara said in court papers.
Stewart’s lawyers argued in court papers that the 28-month term imposed by Koeltl was “reasonable, just and satisfied the purposes of sentencing.”
“Ms. Stewart’s 28-month sentence is reasonable, especially when viewed alongside sentences in other terrorism prosecutions, including those where the defendants joined terrorist groups and clearly intended that harm would result from their actions,” wrote Stewart’s lawyers, Liz Fink and Jill Shellow.
Her lawyers said Koeltl, who presided over the nine-month trial, was in the best position to know the appropriate term to impose and that longer terms imposed in other terrorism cases cited by an appeals court judge were for crimes which occurred after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.
Defense lawyers argued she hadn’t committed perjury during the trial and that she didn’t know the true terrorist nature of followers of Rahman.
Fink wasn’t immediately available for comment yesterday and federal prosecutors declined to comment on the case.
Prosecutors said in court papers that Stewart deserves an “enhanced” sentence. While the U.S. didn’t ask for the 30-year prison term which they’d previously requested, they said they would make a recommendation at a later date about what kind of sentence would be “appropriate.”
The government said Stewart deserved a harsher term because was likely to continue breaking the law, citing statements Stewart made in interviews in the days after the appeals court’s decision.
“I’d like to think I would not do anything differently,” Stewart said in an interview with the Democracy Now Network on Nov. 18, prosecutors quoted her as saying. “I think it was necessary. I would do it again. I might handle it a little differently, but I would do it again.”
Assistant Manhattan U.S. Attorneys Andrew Dember and Michael Maimin said a longer term would prevent Stewart from committing other crimes, arguing her actions of “ideologically motivated criminal conduct” spanned years.
“Stewart’s offense conduct was not isolated to one single event,” Dember and Maimin said, “rather it showed a pattern of purposeful and willful conduct, in which she played a central role in repeated fraudulent attempts to pass messages to and from Abdel Rahman.”
The federal appeals court said in a Dec. 24 ruling issued after the original decision, that it had “serious doubts” about Stewart’s 28-month term and directed Koeltl to apply a terrorism enhancement when calculating a new term.
“I believe I did everything as a lawyer, as a lawyer should do, in the best interests of their client,” Stewart said on Nov. 17, at a news conference at Foley Square, outside the federal courthouse where her trial was held.
Stewart defended Rahman, the Islamic Group’s spiritual leader, against 1993 charges that he plotted to blow up the United Nations, an FBI building, two tunnels and a bridge in New York City. He was convicted in 1995 and is serving a life sentence in a high-security prison, where Stewart had numerous meetings with him.
Prosecutors said during the trial that after Rahman’s imprisonment, Stewart had four prison visits with the cleric in which she smuggled messages from 1997 to 2001.
Rahman relied upon Stewart and her co-defendants to send a message withdrawing his support for the group’s cease-fire with the Egyptian government, U.S. authorities contended.
The organization had suspended its violent activities after a 1997 attack that left 62 people dead at a temple in Luxor, Egypt, prosecutors said. Testimony showed the Islamic Group later demanded the cleric’s release from prison in the U.S. and planned an attack that was thwarted by Egyptian authorities in 2000.
The case is U.S. v. Stewart, 06-5015-cr, U.S. Court of Appeals.