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(Updates with Padilla lawyer’s comment in fifth paragraph.)
Sept. 19 (Bloomberg) -- Jose Padilla, called an al-Qaeda “star recruit” by U.S. prosecutors, should have received a longer sentence than the 17-year, four-month term he’s serving for his 2008 conviction, a federal appeals court said.
The U.S. Court of Appeals in Atlanta sent Padilla’s case back to the trial court for resentencing. The three-judge appeals panel voted 2-1 to reject the lower-court judge’s opinion that Padilla will be too old to pose a threat upon his release from prison.
“Padilla poses a heightened risk of future dangerousness due to his al-Qaeda training,” the appeals panel wrote. “He is far more sophisticated than an individual convicted of an ordinary street crime.”
A jury convicted Padilla in 2007 of conspiring to kill, maim and kidnap people abroad for Islamic fundamentalist groups. Jurors concluded that he raised money for extremists and trained at an Osama bin Laden terrorist camp in Afghanistan. During his trial in Miami, his defense was that he went to learn to defend Muslims in Kosovo.
Marc Caruso, Padilla’s attorney, said today that Cooke’s sentence was fair and that improper evidence from the government was introduced at trial.
“We are obviously disappointed in the court’s ruling and will seek review by the Supreme Court,” Caruso said in an e-mail.
U.S. Attorney Wifredo A. Ferrer in Miami won’t comment “because the case is still pending,” said Alicia Valle, a spokeswoman.
Padilla, born in New York, was arrested in 2002 as he arrived in the U.S. on a flight from Pakistan. He is locked up in the administrative maximum security facility in Florence, Colorado, according to the U.S. Bureau of Prisons.
Padilla remained in detention for more than three years without being charged with a crime. A federal judge in South Carolina told prosecutors to charge him or free him. At the time, law enforcement suspected that he plotted to explode a radioactive “dirty bomb” in the U.S. and considered him an “enemy combatant.” That accusation wasn’t included in the charges against him.
The trial court reduced Padilla’s sentence by too much based on the time he spent in jail before trial, U.S. Circuit Court Chief Judge Joel Dubina wrote in today’s ruling. Judge William Pryor joined Dubina in the decision. Judge Rosemary Barkett disagreed, saying in her dissenting opinion that some of the evidence should have been excluded from Padilla’s trial.
Padilla’s co-defendants, Adham Amin Hassoun and Kifah Wael Jayyousi, were convicted with him on the same charges.
In deciding against life sentences for the three, U.S. District Judge Marcia Cooke in Miami said they didn’t engage in conduct intended to murder or maim on U.S. soil and didn’t harm any Americans in the U.S. or abroad. The sentences were shorter than 30-year minimum terms that Cooke previously said were supported by sentencing guidelines.
The case is U.S. v. Hassoun, 04-cr-60001, U.S. District Court, Southern District of Florida (Miami). The appeal case is U.S. v. Jayyousi, 08-10494, U.S. Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit (Atlanta).
--Editors: Andrew Dunn, Charles Carter
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