A judge today vacated the case against Hamid Hayat, the Lodi jihadist, on procedural grounds.
NY Times: Hamid Hayat’s case had put a spotlight on the farming town of Lodi, Calif., where the authorities said men were financing terrorist groups abroad and recruiting members.
A federal judge on Tuesday overturned the 2006 conviction of a California man accused of training in a Pakistani terrorist camp and lying to the F.B.I. about it, undoing a case once heralded by federal prosecutors after the Sept. 11 attacks as a proactive victory against terrorism.
The man, Hamid Hayat, 35, was sentenced in 2007 to 24 years in prison. He had served more than 14 years before Tuesday’s decision.
In overturning Mr. Hayat’s conviction and sentence, Judge Garland E. Burrell Jr., of United States District Court in Sacramento, said that Mr. Hayat had not been adequately represented during his trial. His lawyer did not use testimony from several witnesses who could have provided a credible alibi for Mr. Hayat, the judge wrote in his order.
“At the time that all of this happened, back in 2005, this was an international story,” Mr. Riordan said. “The F.B.I. said there was a sleeper cell of Al Qaeda in Lodi, Calif., of all places.”
Mr. Hayat and his father were the only two people charged in connection with that investigation. Terrorism charges against Mr. Hayat’s father were dropped after he pleaded guilty to lying about the amount of money he took out of the country.
The case against Hamid Hayat was largely built around his confessions as well as testimony from an informant who was paid about $225,000 after telling the F.B.I. that Osama bin Laden’s deputy, Ayman al-Zawahri, once visited the Lodi mosque.
Mr. Hayat was accused of training at the camp between October 2003 and November 2004. A jury convicted Mr. Hayat in April 2006.
After Mr. Hayat’s conviction, McGregor Scott, the United States attorney in Sacramento, said, “We have detected, we have disrupted and we have deterred, and whatever was taking shape in Lodi isn’t going to happen now.”
A federal magistrate judge held hearings last year on whether Mr. Hayat’s original lawyer “failed to adequately investigate and present certain defenses on his behalf and to effectively represent him on certain issues during trial.”
The Council on American-Islamic Relations-Sacramento applauded Judge Burrell’s decision.
Wazhma Mojaddidi, former CAIR executive director who represented Hyat in the first trial, botched the defense.
Because of her inexperience, she failed to follow proper procedures.
First, Wazhma Mojaddidi did not exhaust all opportunities to obtain alibi witnesses for Hyat, namely his family members in Pakistan.
These family members were subsequently allowed to testify in court via video conference last year. The judge found their testimony to be credible because they corroborated each other on details of Hyats’ visit.
Second, Mojaddidi is accused of not providing expert witnesses to counter Islamic expert Khaleel Mohammed.
Dr. Mohammad translated the supplication as:
“Oh Allah we place you at their throats and we seek refuge in you from their evils.”
He then testified that the supplication was
“not peaceful” because he looked up the supplication in several commentaries, and “just about every commentary [the expert] checked puts it [the supplication] in a case where someone who is in jihad makes this supplication” – United States v. Hayat 710 F.3d 875 (9th Cir. 2013) Decided Mar 13, 2013
Witnesses who might have offered counter testimony include Ingrid Mattson.
These witnesses stated in an Atlantic Monthly article that the supplication was “common”.
The court also found that Mojaddidi should have objected to Dr. Mohammed’s testimony that the supplication indicated a jihadist state of mind.
Additionally, Mojadini did not challenge Hyat’s confession as being improperly conducted.
In other words, he walks on a technicality.
Irrespective of the mechanisms of justice, as a layman, there still remains a great deal of concern about the lack of separation between many Muslims and jihadists supplications, the presence of CAIR, the Muslim Legal Fund of America, judge shopping, video testimony from Pakistan, super lawyer Denis Riordan, and rampant, willful ignorance about the dangers to society of unregulated Islam.
Sacramento judge vacates conviction in 13-year-old Lodi terror case of Hamid Hayat
In a stunning move, the federal judge in Sacramento who oversaw the trial and conviction of accused Lodi terror suspect Hamid Hayat 13 years ago has ordered the conviction and sentence vacated.
The order issued Tuesday by U.S. District Judge Garland E. Burrell Jr. essentially means Hayat’s appellate attorneys can seek his immediate release from a federal prison in Phoenix, where he had been serving his 24-year sentence.
“I don’t know whether the government will choose to appeal this order,” Hayat lead defense counsel Dennis Riordan said. “They have a right to do so.
“But as someone who has practiced appellate law for 40 years, there is no possibility of overturning a district court order that is wholly based on issues of credibility.”
Riordan, a nationally known San Francisco lawyer who spent 14 years working to free Hayat, said the decision was “as significant as any that I’ve had in my career.”
He said he was able to reach Hayat in prison by phone and delivered a message years in the making.
“I said, ‘The day has arrived, we won,’ ” Riordan said. “And he said, ‘You’re joking with me.’ And I said, ‘No, I’m not. The decision came down today.’”
A spokeswoman for U.S. Attorney McGregor Scott, whose office prosecuted Hayat in 2006 and has maintained that the former Lodi cherry picker had trained in an overseas terror camp, issued a statement late Monday saying no decision had been made on how to respond to the judge’s order.
“We are in the process of reviewing the district court decision and assessing what steps, if any, should be taken and considering all our options,” the statement read.
Hayat’s family in Lodi issued a statement Tuesday rejoicing at the judge’s decision.
“We have been waiting 14 long years for Hamid to be freed,” the statement read. “Hamid cannot get those 14 years of his life back, but we are relieved to see the case take such a big step forward. We miss him and hope to be reunited with him soon.”
Basim Elkarra, executive director of the Sacramento chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, also applauded the decision.
“After all these years, we never lost hope that Hamid’s wrongful conviction would be overturned,” Elkarra said. “At the time of Hamid’s case, the prosecution took advantage of anti-Muslim, post-9/11 bias to convict an innocent man. And this much-needed good news comes at a time when Islamophobia and bigotry as a whole is on the rise.”
Burrell’s decision comes seven months after U.S. Magistrate Judge Deborah Barnes issued a 116-page recommendation to Burrell that the conviction be vacated because of ineffective representation by his original defense attorney, a woman who at the time had never tried a criminal case in federal court.
Barnes’ recommendation followed weeks of testimony in a 2018 hearing in which Riordan hammered home his contention that the FBI had coerced Hayat into false confessions, that the training camp he supposedly visited was not even open at the time he was in Pakistan and that alibi witnesses who could prove his innocence were not produced at the original trial.
The Hayat case has been controversial from the start, when federal prosecutors announced they had broken up a terror cell in Lodi and arrested Hayat on terror charges and his father, Umer, an ice cream truck driver, on charges of lying to the FBI.
In the post-9/11 atmosphere, the announcement sent shock waves through the Muslim community in Lodi and elsewhere, especially with allegations that Hamid Hayat, then 22, had allegedly taken part in explosives and weapons training that included using photos of President George W. Bush as targets.
Umer Hayat’s jury could not reach a verdict in his case and he later pleaded guilty to a lesser charge and was sentenced to time served.
But Hamid Hayat, who was born in San Joaquin County in 1982, was found guilty in 2006 of terror-related charges and packed off to prison.
That began years of appeals efforts on his behalf, and Riordan eventually won the right to hold an evidentiary hearing in which he sought to prove that Hayat’s lawyer, Wazhma Mojaddidi of Sacramento, was so inexperienced that he could not have received a fair trial.
Evidence presented in the hearing included the fact that Mojaddidi did not present evidence from witnesses in Pakistan who could have cleared Hayat.
Some of those witnesses subsequently were called by Riordan in late-night video sessions from Pakistan during last year’s hearing and Burrell, in a 36-page decision, adopted the magistrate judge’s finding that the alibi witnesses could provide crucial testimony.
Mojaddidi, who has contended her client was innocent, issued a statement late Monday praising the decision to vacate his conviction.
“I am extremely happy to hear that Hamid will be freed and reunited with his family,” she said. “As a young attorney, I worked very hard with the legal team to prove his innocence and never gave up believing in him.
“Justice has finally been served.”
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