Hamid Hayat ventured out into public for the first time in 14 years on Sunday, as he and his family celebrated the Muslim holiday of Eid al-Adha.
Until Friday, he'd been serving a 24-year sentence in federal prison.
"I'm still in shock. I can't believe this day came. I wake up and I still think I'll be in prison," Hayat told the media and the gathered crowd after prayer services, his voice choked with tears.
Though emotion got the better of him on Sunday, Hayat had shared his thoughts in a statement released earlier in the weekend.
"I cannot describe the sense of joy that I have felt to be reunited with my family after fourteen years of separation, and to meet for the first time the nieces and nephews born while I was in prison," he said. "I will never be able to fully express my deepest thanks to all the people who believed in my innocence and who worked for so long, so hard and in so many different ways to help me regain my freedom."
Sacramento-area Muslims flocked to an arena at the Jackson Sports Academy in McClellan Park on Sunday morning for the Tarbiya Institute's Sacramento Grand Eid celebration. Children played around tables set up for a post-prayer meal, and guests greeted each other with large smiles as they browsed booths selling scarves that lined the arena's wall.
As worshipers spread colorful prayer rugs, an announcer promised a "heart-warming, exciting surprise."
When Hayat entered, he was welcomed with a round of applause and given a place in the front row.
The former Lodi cherry picker has been held for 14 years at a federal prison in Arizona, after he was convicted in 2006 on one count of providing material support or resources to terrorists and three counts of making false statements to the FBI.
Hamid's father, ice cream truck driver Umer Hayat, who was arrested with his son, pleaded guilty to two counts of making false statements to the FBI in exchange for release with time served.
Earlier this year, U.S. Magistrate Judge Deborah Barnes recommended that Hamid Hayat's conviction be overturned due to ineffective legal representation. Hayat's original attorney -- who had never argued a criminal case before -- failed to investigate certain defenses or seek alibi witnesses, his legal team argued.
In late July, U.S. District Judge Garland E. Burrell Jr. -- who sentenced Hayat in the 2006 trial -- agreed, and vacated his conviction. Hayat was released on Friday.
The decision came after years of work by Riordan & Horgan, the San Francisco law firm who took up Hayat's case. The firm's team and supporters interviewed witnesses who were never called in the original trial, including several who testified from Pakistan via teleconference.
They also argued that Hayat's confession, in which he told the FBI he had attended a jihadi training camp, had been coerced.
Former FBI agent James Wedick Jr., who also attended Sunday's press conference, told the Los Angeles Times in May 2006 that Hamid and Umer Hayat's confessions contradicted each other and themselves, with descriptions of the camp ranging from mud huts to a massive building, training including pole vaulting practice in a basement in Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle masks, and locations in different regions of Pakistan, among other inconsistencies.
The U.S. Attorney's Office must now decide whether to fight the judge's decision. Hayat must abide by a curfew and travel restrictions in the meantime.
During Sunday's press conference, Dennis Riordan stated that Hayat had never attended a terrorist training camp. Instead, he claims, paid FBI informant Naseem Khan tried to threaten him into going to a jihadi camp, and Hayat then cut off contact with Khan.
Hayat told the FBI just that on three separate occasions, Riordan said.
"That truth was not enough for the FBI, and they responded to that truth with three critical falsehoods that played a huge role in Hamid's subsequent conviction," he said.
Agents claimed they had photos of him in the camp, Riordan said, but admitted in trial that was untrue. They claimed there was an al-Qaida sleeper cell in Lodi, which was also untrue, he said. And the FBI got an expert to testify that a Muslim prayer meant to protect travelers would only be carried by a terrorist.
"That was not only a falsehood against Hamid, it was a libel on the millions of Muslims around the world who carry that prayer, that supplication as seeking divine protection from the dangers of travel," Riordan said.
It was the federal government that imprisoned Hayat -- but it was that court system that allowed his team to appeal and get his conviction overturned, he said.
Hamid Hayat went to trial, and was convicted and sentenced to 24 years in federal prison.
The Hayats first came to the FBI's attention after they were befriended by Khan. But questions arose about Khan's work while Hamid Hayat's 2006 trial was still underway, when the Los Angeles Times and Newsweek found serious holes in some of Khan's testimony.
For example, Khan told the courtroom that he had seen Ayman al-Zawahiri, Osama bin Laden's right-hand man, at least 90 times in Lodi in 1998 and 1999. But the two news organizations found video evidence that al-Zawahiri had been in Afghanistan when Khan said he was in Lodi.
“What would he be doing here? We are Pakistani,” Lodi shop owner Mohammed Shoaib told the Times in an article published March 16, 2006. “If there were an Egyptian speaking Arabic somebody would have seen him.” Lodi's Pakistani-American community mainly speaks Urdu or Pashto in addition to English.
A News-Sentinel story published just days later noted that Khan, who had a past check fraud conviction, had been paid more than $200,000 over five years by the FBI for his work as an informant in Lodi.
As Hayat's team of attorneys and supporters worked through the appeals process, they were given an offer in 2014: His major convictions would be overturned and he would be released if he pleaded guilty to a lesser charge. Riordan said he warned Hayat that not taking the deal could mean more years in prison.
"Hamid very calmly said, 'I desperately want to be back with my family, but I will not win my freedom by saying I committed a crime that I did not,'" Riordan said.
Wedick, another of Hayat's supporters, was contacted by Hayat's defense attorneys. While the 35-year veteran of the agency had not been permitted to testify at Hayat's trial, he told the Los Angeles Times that Hayat's videotaped interrogation and confession were the "sorriest" he'd ever seen.
On Sunday, Wedick also addressed the press conference.
In 2006, he expected Hayat to be found not guilty, he said.
"I just couldn't believe it," he said. "I told the media, 'Someday, there will be a day and I don't doubt it, that this conviction will be vacated.'"
At that point, he promised Riordan -- a former courtroom opponent -- that they would work together on Hayat's appeal.
Several other attorneys and advocates shared their support at Hamid Hayat's homecoming Sunday, but the most emotional speaker was his sister Raheela Hayat. She called Hayat's legal team angels.
She also expressed her anger at Khan, calling him a monster. And she encouraged the audience to know their rights, so they never end up in the same situation as the Hayat family.
"Don't make the mistake that we did. It's OK not to talk to them. It's not a bad thing," she said. "Get a lawyer, call your lawyer. Call CAIR, they'll do everything for you."
When the agents came to the Hayat home, Raheela Hayat -- who was 10 years old at the time -- was terrified that they would all be shot and no one would know, she said.
"We do not want another Muslim family to go and suffer what we have suffered in the 14 years," she said.
For 14 years, the Hayats never gave up hope that Hamid would be freed.
"We've been called Osama bin Laden's leaders, the cells of al-Qaida," she said, wiping away tears. "We're a normal family living in America. We were innocent, and we are innocent."
Now, Hayat will need to take some time to get his feet on the ground, Riordan said. But unlike many former inmates, he has support from his family and the community. He's even had job offers -- including some in Lodi.
He hasn't made any decisions yet.
"He's going to need a little time," Riordan said.