Life term remains in play for Padilla

Guidelines indicate judge will heed prosecutors' call

January 16, 2008|By Carol J. Williams | Carol J. Williams,LOS ANGELES TIMES

MIAMI -- Alleged "dirty bomb" plotter Jose Padilla and two co-defendants were engaged in terrorism when they conspired to fight in foreign holy wars and should spend 30 years to life in prison, a federal judge ruled yesterday.

The sentencing guidelines imposed by U.S. District Judge Marcia G. Cooke seemed to indicate that, at least in the case of Padilla, she would heed prosecutors' call for life without parole.

A jury convicted Padilla, 37, and his co-defendants in August of conspiracy to murder, maim or kidnap persons abroad and material support to terrorism.

The federal government's allegation that Padilla had been plotting to detonate a radioactive bomb in a U.S. city was dropped before his four-month trial, despite having been the basis for holding the U.S. citizen at a military brig for 3 1/2 years.

Federal sentencing guidelines are advisory, but Cooke's rulings on various defense motions indicated that she was following them to the letter in calculating the sentences for Padilla; his alleged recruiter, Adham Amin Hassoun; and Kifah Wael Jayyousi, a former San Diego school administrator accused of delivering aid to Muslim fighters in foreign conflicts.

Specific sentences will be set by the judge, as early as Friday, after testimony by character witnesses for the three defendants.

But by endorsing the "terrorism enhancement" multiplier applied in a probation officer's presentencing report, Cooke effectively rejected defense lawyers' calls for lenience.

Cooke modified the presentencing report that classified Hassoun and Jayyousi as playing "leadership roles" in a global conspiracy to commit terrorist acts and impose fundamentalist Islamic regimes abroad.

She also dismissed as "disingenuous" the government's arguments that Hassoun and Jayyousi had criminal histories that called for longer sentences. Neither man had an arrest or infraction before the government began its eight-year clandestine surveillance in 1993.

Evidence obtained during the wiretapping was used to allege immigration violations to justify Hassoun's and Jayyousi's initial detention and interrogation in 2001 - the criminal history the government said warranted harsher sentencing.

The adjustments Cooke made for Hassoun, 45, and Jayyousi, 46, dropped them one to three points below the 43-point federal sentencing standard for life in prison.

But the "terrorism enhancement" multiplier in calculating the three men's sentences means that she must give each a minimum of 360 months imprisonment to be in compliance with federal anti-terrorism statutes.

Defense attorney Michael Caruso had urged Cooke to deem Padilla a minor figure in the North American terrorist support cell that the government said united the three defendants. FBI surveillance of Hassoun and Jayyousi involved more than 300,000 recorded phone calls, with only seven involving Padilla. None contained a reference to any intent to break the law.

Cooke cited the jury's finding that Padilla had enrolled in an al-Qaida training camp as proof he was "an instrument of the scheme" to overthrow foreign governments and impose fundamentalist Islamic rule.

Padilla was arrested at Chicago's O'Hare International Airport in May 2002 and detained on a material witness warrant, apparently stemming from interrogation of alleged accomplices in secret CIA prisons abroad.

Deemed an "enemy combatant," Padilla was held in solitary confinement at a Navy brig in Charleston, S.C. The Pentagon transferred him to the federal court system in November 2005 and added his name to the indictment against Hassoun and Jayyousi, just before an expected Supreme Court ruling that Padilla, as a U.S. citizen, could not be held without charges.

Carol J. Williams writes for the Los Angeles Times.

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