By DON THOMPSON
SACRAMENTO, Calif (AP) — Federal prosecutors in California on Friday ended what once was among the nation’s highest profile anti-terrorism cases, after a judge earlier overturned the conviction that grew from conspiracy allegations in the wake of the 2001 terrorist attacks.
Hamid Hayat, a cherry picker from the community of Lodi in the Central Valley agricultural heartland, was freed in August after spending more than 14 years in prison. That was more than half his sentence on charges of providing material support to terrorists and lying to FBI agents.
A federal judge in July overturned his 2006 conviction on charges of plotting an attack in the United States after attending a terrorist training camp in Pakistan. The judge ruled that Hayat, who proclaimed his innocence, hadn’t received a proper defense at trial.
Prosecutors could have appealed that decision or sought a new trial, but instead filed a brief motion to dismiss the case on Friday.
“We have determined that the passage of time and the interests of justice counsel against resurrecting this 15 year old case,” they said in a statement.
They noted that his conviction was overturned “based solely on the effectiveness of the lawyer of his own choosing.” The U.S. Attorney’s Office in Sacramento, along with the U.S. Department of Justice’s National Security Division, reviewed the case and the evidence that would be available during a new trial before opting not to proceed, they said.
Members of Hayat’s new legal team, led by the law firm of Riordan & Horgan, previously said both the federal judge and a federal magistrate had also found that multiple witnesses had credibly testified years later that Hamid could not have committed the crimes. They claimed the judge’s findings leading to his overturning Hayat’s conviction were “effectively a finding of actual innocence.”
Investigators initially alleged that five men were part of an al-Qaida “sleeper cell” in Lodi.
But only Hayat, who was born in California, was convicted of terror-related crimes, while three other suspects were eventually deported without charges. Hayat’s father, an ice cream truck driver, admitted to a customs violation after a jury was unable to reach a decision on whether he lied to federal agents about his son’s activities.
U.S. District Judge Garland E. Burrell Jr. found that inexperienced defense attorney Wazhma Mojaddidi failed to find those alibi witnesses, who would have testified that Hayat never had time to receive terror training while visiting relatives and getting married in his ancestral village in Pakistan.
They said that the longest Hayat was absent from his family’s ancestral village of Behboodi while visiting Pakistan with family members between 2003 and 2005 was one week. That directly contracted his purported confession to attending a training camp for three to six months.
His defense attorney also should have provided a witness to testify that what prosecutors said was an incriminating note found in Hayat’s wallet was in fact a religious supplication commonly used by many Muslims, he ruled.
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