By Crescenzo Vellucci
Vanguard Sacramento Bureau
SACRAMENTO – President Donald Trump – no friend of Muslims with his policy to ban them from the U.S. – may hold the keys to the release of Hamid Hayat, a Lodi man whose conviction and 24-year sentence was overturned this week on appeal.
Hayat, just 22 when he was sent to prison in 2006 for allegedly visiting a terrorist camp in Pakistan, was expected to be free by Thursday or Friday this week.
But that wasn’t to be. Despite the hopes and tears of his supporters, Hayat is still not a free man.
Friday his legal team was forced to file a motion in Federal Court here for his release. Apparently, Trump’s Justice Dept in Washington D.C. is making the final call of whether to release Hayat to his family.
His lawyers argued in the motion Friday that Hayat, had he accepted a plea deal originally offered, would have only served 12 years and nine months, much less than the 14 years he has now served after conviction.
The U.S. legal team – there is also a team of lawyers and others in Pakistan – includes Dennis P. Riordan, Donald M. Horgan, Layli Shirani, Martha Boersch and Ted Sampsell-Jones.
“(H)e has endured over 14 years of confinement in his effort to prove that he was not guilty of the crimes with which he was charged. Now that his convictions have been vacated, any suggestion that Mr. Hayat would abandon his family and community in order to flee the Court’s jurisdiction, or would engage in any conduct that would again subject his family and community to the opprobrium that followed his arrest in 2005, is simply baseless,” the petition said.
The legal team charged the “government cannot establish any compelling interest in defendant’s continuing custody pending a final determination of the case in the event of any appeal,” and asked that Hayat be scheduled a hearing to determine his ultimate fate.
Hayat’s lawyers noted that the “Court’s ruling in favor of defendant correctly construed and applied the legal principles governing defendant’s claims and rested on findings of fact concerning witness credibility that are virtually unchallengeable on appeal,” and said it would be “extraordinarily unlikely” the government would win on appeal.
The pleading claimed that Hayat had no criminal record before this episode, and has had a spotless record in prison. Lawyers suggested there was no “realistic risk of flight” by Hayat because of his “extensive” family ties in Lodi and Stockton, and that he would be employed and receive “all needed support services.”
To that point, Basim Elkarra, Council on American-Islamic Relations Sacramento Valley (CAIR-SV) Executive Director, said in a letter to the court that Hayat has “overwhelming” support in his community.
“I have been in communication with Hamid’s parents and family members who deeply miss him. They are eager to welcome him back home to live with them in Stockton. Business owners and employers in the community stand ready to offer Hamid suitable employment (and) the community is also willing to cover the cost of mental health and counseling support through nonprofit providers,” said Elkarra.
Several dozen family and friends wore looks of relief mixed with grim determination this week as they applauded the decision by a federal judge to overturn the conviction of Hayat, caught up in the wake of post 9/11 ant-Muslim sentiment after the 9/11 attack.
U.S. District Judge Garland Burrell. Jr.. Tuesday vacated Hayat’s 2006 sentence after he and other federal judges determined the then-young Lodi cherry picker did not have fair representation at trial, and, in fact, may have had a solid alibi to support the claim that he wasn’t part of a supposed dangerous “sleeper” terrorist cell based just south of Sacramento.
The court agreed with the defense team that Hayat’s original attorney was so inexperienced Hayat could not possibly have had a fair trial.
More than a dozen witnesses swore Hayat – accused of attending a terrorist training camp while he was visiting Pakistan – was in the U.S. at the time. Those witnesses were never called to testify.
Evidence that the terror camp was, in fact, closed during that time Hayat supposedly visited it was also withheld from the jury. Family maintained that he did go to Pakistan, but it was related to his mother’s health needs.
“Hamid has 14 years lost, behind bars. We ask U.S. Attorney McGregor Scott and the Department of Justice to show mercy and allow this young man to be released,” said CAIR’s Elkarra, adding, “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 (are) on the rise,” he said.
“I just want my brother back home. He’s been innocent for a long time. I want my brother back,” said Raheela Hyatt, the sister of Hamid Hayat. She wept quietly in front of the microphones Wednesday, admitting that she and her brother were “both crying” over the phone at the news, and that he was “already packing.”
Attorney Riordan said, “The court’s decision correctly finds that Hamid was deprived of a fair trial by the failings of his inexperienced counsel, but it does much more than that. Two federal judges have found credible the testimony of multiple witnesses that Hamid could not have committed the crimes of which he was accused. That is effectively a finding of actual innocence,” said Riordan.
And Hayat’s family said, “We have been waiting 14 long years for Hamid to be freed. 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. We hope no other family has to endure this pain and sense of helplessness.”