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In Miami, a Federal judge today sentenced Jose Padilla to more than 17 years in prison. Padilla was convicted, along with two codefendants, of supporting terrorism and conspiring to commit murder abroad.
NPR's Greg Allen reports.
GREG ALLEN: The sentence, while stiff, was considerably less than the life sentences the government asked for. U.S. District Judge Marcia Cooke said the evidence and testimony presented at trial did not support the government's request for such a harsh sentence. Today's sentencing comes five months after a jury found that over an eight-year period, Padilla and his two codefendants, Adham Hassoun and Kifah Jayyousi, operated a terrorist support cell in South Florida - sending money, supplies and recruits to jihadist groups fighting in Afghanistan, Bosnia, Chechnya, and other countries.
Padilla was just such a recruit. At Hassoun's urging, he traveled first to Egypt before making his way to Afghanistan, where he attended an al-Qaida training camp. When he was arrested nearly six years ago, government officials said he was plotting to set off a radioactive dirty bomb in the U.S. He was declared an enemy combatant and held in a military jail for three years before being transferred to civilian custody and indicted in this case, which made no mention of the earlier dirty bomb allegations. Outside the federal courthouse in Miami, after the sentencing hearing, Padilla's mother, Estella Lebron, was smiling.
Surrounded by reporters, she said she was pleased the judge didn't give her son the maximum sentence and the fact, she said, that we're now clear.
Ms. STELLA LEBRON (Jose Padilla's Mother): He's not a terrorist. He's not an enemy combatant. He's not the Puerto Rican Taliban. He is just a human being, an American citizen, and that's what made me happy.
ALLEN: Although it wasn't part of the trial, an issue that loomed large in pretrial motions and in the sentencing phase was the treatment Padilla received while he was held in a Navy brig in South Carolina. At today's sentencing hearing, Judge Cooke described what she called the prison's harsh conditions. Padilla was held in extreme isolation, she said, subjective to environmental stresses, such as loud noise and temperature extremes, even his access to an attorney was denied.
Even though she didn't allow testimony about that treatment be introduced at trial, Cooke said she did take it into account in this phase and reduced Padilla's sentence accordingly.
In court, prosecutor John Shipley called the sentences given to Padilla and his two codefendants unreasonably light. Defense attorneys for all three men disagreed. While they were pleased Judge Cooke did not give the defendants life, they said they plan to appeal the convictions and the sentences.
William Swor represented Kifah Jayyousi, who received the sentence of 12 years and eight months. Swor said one issue he'll challenge on appeal would be the way the government - in his words - injected al-Qaida and Osama bin Laden into this case.
Mr. WILLIAM SWOR (Kifah Jayyousi's Attorney): The government's attempt to frighten the jury clearly bore fruit, and we will raise that as an issue.
ALLEN: In Washington, the Justice Department released a statement today thanking the prosecution team for its hard work, saying, quote, "the defendants' North American support cell has been dismantled and can no longer send money and Jihadist recruits overseas."
Greg Allen, NPR News, Miami.
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