NEW YORK (Reuters) - A New York lawyer who helped a terrorism suspect smuggle messages to his followers from prison was sentenced to 10 years in prison on Thursday.
Lynne Stewart, 70, has been in prison since November after she was initially sentenced to 28 months for helping her client, blind Egyptian cleric Sheikh Omar Abdel-Rahman, contact the Islamic Group in Egypt.
The Islamic Group is listed by the U.S. government as a terrorist organization. Abdel-Rahman was convicted in 1995 of conspiring to attack the United Nations and other New York City landmarks, following the 1993 World Trade Center truck bombing.
Stewart, who was convicted by a jury in July 2005 and has been disbarred, was sentenced in 2006.
But U.S. prosecutors wanted a 15- to 30-year sentence for Stewart and appealed the first sentence. The appeals court said in a ruling that the 28-month sentence imposed by U.S. District Judge John Koeltl was insufficient.
It urged him to consider several other factors at resentencing, namely the terrorism-related aspect of Stewart’s actions, comments she made following the sentencing, that she may have lied and that she took advantage of her position.
Koeltl said his original sentence was “not trivial,” but that Stewart had expressed “a lack of remorse for a conduct that was illegal and potentially lethal.”
After the October 2006 sentencing, Stewart said she could serve the time “standing on my head.” In court on Thursday, she said she regretted those remarks.
During a 2 1/2 hour hearing on Thursday, Koeltl took note of Stewart’s age, her fight with breast cancer and the unlikelihood of her repeating her actions. He underscored her commitment to serving poor and unpopular clients.
But Assistant U.S. Attorney Andrew Dember told the judge “she’s just frankly, your honor, another criminal who refuses to accept responsibility for what she did.”
Prosecutors accused Stewart of willingly and knowingly supporting Abdel-Rahman’s “efforts to continue to lead the Islamic Group from his jail cell.”
When Koeltl mentioned the heavier sentence, some people in the crowded courtroom gasped and began to cry. Stewart told the court said she was “somewhat stunned” by the sentence.
Lawyers for Stewart argued the judge should reapply the same initial sentence, and denied government claims she had lied in court.
Reporting by Basil Katz; Editing by Michelle Nichols and Alan Elsner