A California man convicted of attending an al-Qaida camp in Pakistan was sentenced to 24 years in federal prison Monday for supporting terrorists, concluding a case that divided a Central Valley farming community.
U.S. District Court Judge Garland Burrell Jr. imposed the sentence against Hamid Hayat on his 25th birthday, saying he had "attended a terrorist training camp, returned to the United States ready and willing to wage violent jihad when directed to do so."
Hayat faced up to 39 years in prison after his April 2006 conviction on one count of providing material support to terrorists and three counts of lying about it to FBI agents. Prosecutors said he plotted to attack hospitals, banks, grocery stores and government buildings in California.
Burrell said he was skeptical that Hayat would ever renounce violence and his crimes deserved the toughest punishment, but he cited Hayat's lack of a previous criminal record and other factors in handing down a lesser sentence - about halfway between what prosecutors and defense attorneys had argued for.
The defense had sought a sentence of 15 years.
Hayat, shackled and clean-shaven since his trial, showed little emotion when the sentence was read.
His family sat quietly in the back row of the courtroom.
But surrounded by reporters outside the courthouse afterward, his father lashed out.
"We were expecting justice. We did not get justice. My son is innocent," said Hamid Hayat's father, Umer, who also had been caught up in the case until a federal jury deadlocked on whether he had lied about his son's attendance at the camp.
Hamid Hayat's lawyer, Dennis Riordan, vowed to appeal.
He also filed a motion Monday asking Burrell to toss out the entire
conviction because Hayat's original trial lawyer had never before argued a criminal case and had a conflict of interest when she represented him.
On the eve of the sixth anniversary of Sept. 11, 2001, U.S. Attorney McGregor Scott held up the prosecution and sentencing as a shining example of why the country has not been attacked since.
"We will utilize every legal tool available to us to ensure we, our children, and our children's children, never have to relive the horror of that day," he said.
Yet Scott also stressed that Hayat's conviction was different from military tribunals and other controversial efforts to lock up suspected terrorists.
"There has been profound criticism of how the Bush administration has prosecuted the war on terror.
The point we're making here - from beginning to end: This was a traditional, open, American federal court and he has been convicted as a terrorist."
Hayat, a U.S. citizen, was arrested in June 2005 shortly after returning from a two-year trip to Pakistan, where prosecutors said he received terrorist training.
His attorneys maintain he never attended a camp and had no such ambitions.
Jurors, however, were swayed by a confession that was videotaped
during a lengthy FBI interrogation.
Hayat failed a lie-detector test and told investigators he had attended various terrorist camps in Pakistan in 2000, 2003 and 2004.
Hayat's lawyers said the confession was coerced after agents peppered him with leading questions and wore him down during an
His father, Umer Hayat, also was tried on charges he lied about his son's attendance at the camp.
A jury deadlocked on the charge, but he later pleaded guilty to lying to a customs agent about why he brought $28,000 in cash to Pakistan several years earlier.
The case against the Hayats grew from a wider federal probe into the 2,500-member Pakistani community in Lodi, a farming and wine-growing region about 35 miles south of the state capital.
That investigation began shortly after the September 2001 terror attacks and focused on whether Lodi business owners were sending
money to terror groups abroad.
An FBI informant sent to Lodi befriended Hamid Hayat and began secretly tape-recording their conversations.
During those talks, most of which were in the Hayat home, Hamid Hayat talked about jihad, praised al-Qaida and expressed support for religious
governments in Pakistan and Afghanistan.
His trial lawyer, Wazhma Mojaddidi, said those sentiments were nothing more than the idle chatter of a directionless young man who had only a sixth-grade education.
Riordin, Hayat's new attorney, says Mojaddidi provided an inadequate defense and erred by ceding decision-making to Umer Hayat's more experienced attorney, Johnny Griffin.
He said that constituted a clear conflict of interest because Griffin was acting in the best interest of his client, not Hamid Hayat.
The case has caused tension in the Central Valley agricultural town, which is known for its annual grape festival.
Basim Elkarra, executive director of the Sacramento Valley chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, called it a sad day and warned that the long sentence could cool relations between Muslims and police.
Pakistani immigrants have been part of the community's fabric for more than a century, attending local mosques and living a largely quiet existence until the case against the Hayats arose.
Since then, trust has been shaken between Muslims and non-Muslims,
with some local Pakistanis saying they feel shunned by the community.
Two Muslim clerics ensnared in the wider probe were deported for immigration violations.
"No one in the FBI is happy that a young man has been sentenced to spend 24 years in federal prison," Drew Parenti, FBI special agent in charge of the Sacramento region, said during a news conference after the sentencing.
"But at the end of the day, those were his decisions and the consequences are now clear."