July 15 (Bloomberg) -- Lynne F. Stewart, the lawyer convicted in 2005 of helping an extremist cleric pass messages from prison to his terrorist followers, was sentenced to 10 years in prison, compared with a 28-month term imposed earlier.
A federal appeals court in November ruled Stewart’s first sentence didn’t reflect the seriousness of her actions or take into account that the crimes of the 70-year-old attorney were terrorism-related.
Judge John Koeltl, in Manhattan, who handed down the stiffer sentence today, said today he didn’t view his original sentence as “trivial.” He said Stewart’s statements in a television interview after the appeals court ruled -- that she would “do it again” and “not do anything differently” -- indicated she didn’t consider the prison term severe enough.
“The comments that the defendant made immediately after the sentence indicate that the defendant did indeed view the sentence as a trivial sentence,” he said. “A ‘trivial sentence’ would not promote or reflect a just punishment,” he said.
Koeltl, who presided over the ninth-month trial, said the comments “indicate a lack of remorse for conduct that was illegal and potentially lethal.”
The lawyer was convicted by a jury in 2005 of helping her former client, the blind Egyptian sheik Omar Abdel Rahman, smuggle messages to followers in defiance of so-called administrative measures imposed on him by the U.S.
The appeals court said Koeltl gave too much weight to her personal qualities, such as her years as a New York school teacher or lawyer for the indigent.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Andrew Dember said Stewart deserved 15 to 30 years, citing “the deadly serious nature of her terrorist crimes of conviction.”
“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,” the government said in court papers.
Stewart asked Koeltl to impose the same 28-month term.
“I have learned that no one, particularly this 70-year old woman, can do 28 months standing on my head,” she said. “The last 28 months in prison has diminished me,” she said, “Twenty eight months set a horizon on a journey I thought I could complete.”
Her lawyers argued that the first term was appropriate, citing sentences in other terrorism prosecutions, including those where the defendants joined terrorist groups. The longer terms cited by an appeals court judge were for crimes that occurred after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, they said.
Koeltl, who presided over the nine-month trial, was in the best position to judge, her attorneys argued.
Defense lawyers argued she hadn’t committed perjury during the trial, as prosecutors argued in court papers, and that she didn’t know the true terrorist nature of Rahman’s followers.
“I did not commit perjury,” Stewart told the judge today. “I did not attempt to obstruct justice. I spoke only the truth as I knew it.”
In November, a federal appeals court ordered Stewart, who had been free pending her appeal, to begin serving her prison term.
After the judge formally imposed sentence today, he asked Stewart if she wanted to address the court.
“I am somewhat stunned,” she replied. “We will continue to struggle here. We will of course take all available options and to do what needs to be done to change this. I just feel I’ve let all my good people down.”
Her supporters, who had greeted her arrival into the courtroom with applause, erupted in shouts of “No Lynne!”
Dember today said that as Rahman’s former trial lawyer, Stewart knew “these people meant business.”
“She knew what he was convicted of,” Dember told Koeltl. “She knew about his participation in a plot to blow up the World Trade Center in 1993. She sat through weeks of testimony in that case. She knew what they were capable of.”
Stewart defended Rahman, the Islamic Group’s spiritual leader, against charges that he plotted to blow up the United Nations, an FBI building, two tunnels and a bridge in New York. He was convicted in 1995 and is serving a life sentence in a high-security prison, where Stewart had meetings with him.
Prosecutors’ evidence during Stewart’s trial included videotapes made during four prison visits with the cleric from 1997 to 2001 in which she smuggled messages.
Rahman relied upon Stewart and 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 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 a U.S. prison U.S. and planned an attack in Egypt that was thwarted in 2000.
The case is U.S. v. Stewart, 06-5015-cr, U.S. Court of Appeals.
To contact the reporter on this story: Patricia Hurtado in New York federal court at firstname.lastname@example.org.
To contact the editor responsible for this story: David E. Rovella at email@example.com.