By Crescenzo Vellucci
Vanguard Sacramento Bureau
SACRAMENTO – The Trump Administration somehow managed to hold onto Hamid Hayat – who was imprisoned 14 years on an alleged terrorist conviction – for more than a year, despite one federal magistrate who said he should be released, and six months after he was freed by another federal judge
But he still faced the prospect of a retrial.
However, that very real retrial possibility, and the extra firm grip of Trump’s Dept. of Justice was finally lifted Friday when the U.S. Attorney’s Office announced the former Lodi-Stockton cherry picker would not be retried. He was finally free.
Last August, U.S. District Judge Garland Burrell Jr. – who heard the original case – vacated Hayat’s 2006 sentence. He and other federal judges determined Hayat had ineffective counsel at trial, and appears to 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 appeal defense team – including lawyers in the U.S. and Pakistan – that Hayat’s original attorney was so inexperienced Hayat could not possibly have had a fair trial.
More than a dozen witnesses swore the then 22-year-old 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.
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.
In a statement issued by U.S. Attorney McGregor Scott’s office Friday, the federal government noted that, “After the court vacated Hayat’s conviction based solely on the effectiveness of the lawyer of his own choosing, our office, together with DOJ’s National Security Division…determined that the passage of time and the interests of justice counsel against resurrecting this 15‑year‑old case…the government now moves this court to dismiss, in the interest of justice, the indictments in this case.”
“Two federal judges have concluded that Hamid would not have been found guilty had the powerful evidence of his innocence that won his freedom in 2019 been presented to his jury in 2006. While we are grateful for the dismissal, the 14 years Hamid spent behind bars on charges of which he was innocent remain a grave miscarriage of justice,” Riordan said in a prepared statement.
He called the Hayat case a “stark example of how, in the post 9/11 era, the government’s effort to protect the public from terrorism could and did in this case go terribly wrong. Hamid’s exoneration is a cause for celebration, but the story of his case is tragedy that must not be repeated.”
Hayat’s lawyers six months ago said 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.
To that point, Basim Elkarra, Council on American-Islamic Relations Sacramento Valley (CAIR-SV) Executive Director, told media and well-wishers Friday that “There aren’t words to express how relieved we are that Hamid is finally going to be truly free. An innocent man spent nearly 14 years in prison, a family was torn apart and an entire community was left traumatized due to prosecution taking advantage of anti-Muslim, post-9/11 hysteria. We will be here to support Hamid and his family as they work to heal after this egregious injustice.”