In June 2005, Lodi resident Hamid Hayat was arrested and charged with providing material support to terrorists and making false statements to the FBI about it. He was convicted in 2006 and sentenced more than a year later to 24 years in federal prison.
On Tuesday, U.S. District Judge Garland E. Burrell Jr. ordered the conviction and sentence vacated.
Lodi residents reacted to the news with shock and surprise.
“I was having lunch when I got the news. It is the happiest news, after the injustice done to this young American Muslim man, this is the first news of justice,” said Taj Khan, president of the California Islamic Center in Lodi.
“We always knew he was innocent. This whole case was made up. The mentality at the time was a mob mentality,” he added. “We have seen this happen before in American history. People just need someone to blame, but they made a mistake. The FBI was out to get someone (and) they railroaded the kid.”
Khan said he thought about Hayat often after he was convicted.
“I am so glad he is getting out,” he said. “I am sure that this is going to be hard. He is young man, I don’t know what it is going to be like now for him.”
Khan and his wife, Shakila, are friends of the Hayat family.
“I was speaking with (Hamid’s) mother — her husband had called her and told her the news,” Shakila Khan said. “He was crying. When she got the call, she thought something had happened to her husband — she thought he had gotten into an accident. His family was so happy when they got the news.”
Nazia Ali and her siblings grew up in Lodi around the same time as Hamid Hayat.
“I am so surprised,” she said. “It has been 14 years. I personally did not think he was guilty. I am glad justice is being served.”
Ali feels that the FBI activity in Lodi gave Islam a bad reputation.
“It definitely put a bad vibe in the community — I feel like they were trying to find something here,” she said. “They picked a kid that was naïve. He was a young man who was bluffing to seem tough, but when they didn’t find anything (connecting him to terrorist camps), they needed a reason, they had to find something to convict him of.”
Earlier this year, Hayat was featured in season 2 of the Netflix documentary series “The Confession Tapes,” in the episode “Marching Orders.”
“I watched the Netflix documentary,” she added. “It clearly described a naive young man who was bluffing.”
For Ali, the conviction hit close to home.
“This could have been anyone’s son, brother, friend, partner,” she said. “This could have been one of my brothers. This is 14 years of his life he is never going to get back, and all the trauma he endured.”
City Councilman Bob Johnson said he recalls the investigation in the community as being mind-boggling.
“Going from livable, lovable, Lodi to being called a terrorist capital, but we were the same city the day before that we were the day after,” Johnson said. “I can remember being in the Carnegie Forum and people that were sitting right next to me felt like they were 100 feet away. All of a sudden we were the focal point of the nation, there was news media from all over looking at us.”
Johnson believes during the investigation the FBI came in with a sense of professionalism, looking to investigate what they believed was a dangerous situation.
“I don’t think they had an agenda, but hindsight is always (20/20). For ordinary people like you and me, unless we were in the back of the courtroom we wouldn’t know what was going on,” Johnson said.
David Hill was the pastor of Grace Presbyterian Church when Hayat was convicted in 2006, and is also a founder of the Breakthrough Project, a social group that promotes diversity and tolerance in the community.
“It was a very difficult situation. The courts did their work and they say that he is no longer guilty. Hopefully we can welcome him back into the community,” Hill said. “I was having lunch with Randy (Rose) and Taj (Khan) when I got the news, and we were all just so surprised. I am still kind of speechless.
“Hopefully (Hayat) can close the door on this chapter and move forward. We need to move on, I hope there is healing after this.”
Hayat’s family was not available for an interview before press time.
On Feb. 1, 2018, Hamid Hayat’s younger sister Raheela spoke with the Sacramento Bee in a video interview. In the video, she shared how his conviction has affected their family over the years.
“He’s innocent, he has been innocent, he will be innocent, and we need justice, and finally, we have some hopes he will be out soon. ... He never attended any camps or anything,” she said. “And because of that, my whole family, we have suffered a lot. We lost, like, our house for the lawyers, and my mom, she’s mentally ill. So is my dad. I mean, can the government pay back my parents their son’s innocence? Twelve years of innocence — can they pay them back?”
At that time, Raheela Hayat had not seen her brother since 2013, when she visited him in prison in Phoenix, she told the Bee.
“He’s doing good. He’s strong,” she said. “He’s just waiting for one day, we’ll win this case and he’ll be out.”