Lodi resident Hamid Hayat was sentenced Monday to 24 years in federal prison after a jury convicted him of supporting terrorists and then lying about it to the FBI.
Hayat, who turned 25 Monday, has been jailed since June 2005, when he was arrested during a large scale FBI investigation in Lodi. He had faced a maximum of 39 years in federal prison, though U.S. District Judge Garland E.
Listen to the press conference (MP3, 8MB)
Burrell Jr. noted his lack of criminal record at sentencing - but not before issuing strong words about the defendant.
"Hamid Hayat attended a terrorist training camp, returned to the United States ready and willing to wage violent jihad when directed to do so regardless of the havoc such jihad could wreak on persons and property within the United States," Burrell said as he handed down the sentence.
Hayat, wearing shackles and orange jail clothing, expressed no visible emotion. His mother and 12-year-old sister, seated in the courtroom behind him, cried silently. His father, Umer Hayat, said his son is innocent.
"It's a sad day for us but we are confident he's going to get out on appeal," he said.
Government prosecutors had asked for a sentence of at least 35 years but hailed Monday's sentence as a victory. On the eve of the 9/11 anniversary, U.S. Attorney McGregor Scott said, there have been no further terror attacks on America.
"This successful prosecution demonstrates that we will use every legal tool available to use to ensure that we, our children and our children's children, never have to relive the horror of that day," he said at a news conference.
The defense, however, maintains that Hayat is innocent and was convicted based on stories he made up to appease FBI agents during hours of interrogation.
"Only an innocent man can be so stubborn to take his case to trial in the wake of Sept. 11 politics," defense attorney Wazhma Mojaddidi said in court.
Hayat even refused a 15-year plea deal offered before trial started, she said.
Though the FBI began a quiet investigation in Lodi not long after 9/11, the focus only shifted to Hayat after a paid informant befriended him and began secretly taping their conversations.
Hayat was arrested June 5, 2005, not long after he married in Pakistan and returned to Lodi, where he had lived since his birth in Stockton. In hours of FBI interviews, which were videotaped and later played for the jury, Hayat denied his involvement in terrorism but ultimately gave a number of various camp descriptions.
Aside from those statements and satellite photos of what could be a military-style camp in Pakistan, the lead FBI agent on the case testified that there was no other proof that Hayat actually attended a camp. Instead, prosecutors focused on Hayat's own words, a potentially radical scrapbook he made as a teenager and conversations with the paid informant who encouraged Hayat to attend a training camp.
The defense, as well as the Muslim community, has expressed strong skepticism of the government's methods. If nothing else, the government "sent a clear message to the Muslim community that you do not speak to the FBI without a lawyer present," said Basim Elkarra, executive director for the Central Valley branch of the Council on American-Islamic Relations.
Scott, the U.S. attorney, said that was not the intent and that he and the FBI will continue trying to reach out to the area's Muslim community. Further, he said, the evidence in the case was laid out in open court before 12 jurors.
The federal jury deliberated for nine days before convicting Hayat of all charges on April 25, 2006. One hold-out juror later said under oath that she had been pressured into convicting by a racist jury foreman. He, in turn, denied the allegation and Burrell declined to order a new trial.
Burrell handed the government a number of small victories throughout the trial but did not give the 35-year sentence they had recommended, or the maximum penalty of 39 years. Instead, he nearly struck a balance between prosecutors' recommendation and a defense request for no more than 15 years.
Though Hayat was sentenced Monday and will soon be transferred to an undetermined federal prison, Burrell's involvement in the case is not over. Within an hour after court proceedings, attorneys Dennis Riordan and Donald Horgan filed a request that Burrell vacate the convictions due to insufficient counsel.
Mojaddidi had defended Hayat since his June 5, 2005, arrest but her representation ended Monday at sentencing. Hayat's new attorneys immediately filed papers saying that Mojaddidi had not known about a number of federal court procedure rules and that her co-counsel, Johnny Griffin, had a conflict of interest.
Griffin represented Hayat's father, Umer Hayat, but also helped Mojaddidi, who had never before tried a criminal case.
Umer Hayat had been charged with lying to the FBI, but not with a more serious charge of terrorism, and a separate jury deadlocked on his charges. Prosecutors did not take the case back to trial; in exchange, Umer Hayat pleaded guilty in an unrelated matter to not declaring money he was taking on a trip to his native Pakistan.
Of five people arrested in the case, Hayat was the only one convicted. Two religious leaders in Lodi's Muslim community, as well as one of the leader's sons, were deported without criminal charges. Scott said the "radical clerics," will never be allowed to return to the U.S.
Hamid Hayat will remain in the Sacramento County Jail until he is transferred to prison, and he will not be eligible for parole until he has served 85 percent of his sentence. He will receive credit for more than two years already spent behind bars.