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February 18, 2005

2005.02.18: NY Sun Article on the Stewart Conviction

From: Susan Morris
Sent: Friday, February 18, 2005 10:38 AM
Subject: NY Sun Article on the Stewart Conviction

Stewart Is Guilty of Aiding Terror in Landmark Case BY GEOFFREY GRAY – Staff Reporter of the Sun February 11, 2005


A 65-year-old activist attorney, who has been a courthouse fixture in Lower Manhattan for more than three decades, Lynne Stewart, was convicted by an anonymous jury yesterday of helping an Egyptian sheik maintain terrorist ties while he was in solitary confinement for plotting to destroy city landmarks. Stewart, dressed in a red and black print kimono blouse and wiping tears from her face, vowed to fight the verdict.

“I know what I did,” she said. “I committed no crime.”

Convicted of conspiracy, providing material support to terrorists, defrauding the United States, and making false statements, she faces a maximum sentence of 45 years in prison. As the result of her felony conviction, Stewart will be automatically disbarred.

Two of Stewart’s co-defendants, Mohammed Yousry, an Arabic translator, and Ahmed Abdel Sattar, who prosecutors said was a close operative for the convicted Egyptian sheik, Omar Abdel Rahman, were also found guilty on criminal and terrorism-related charges. Abdel Sattar faces a potential sentence of life imprisonment. The translator, Yousry, convicted on charges similar to those against Stewart, could face 20 years in prison.

The federal district judge presiding over the case, John Koeltl, scheduled sentencing for July 15.

The guilty verdicts came on the 13th day of on-again, off-again deliberations, which were sporadically postponed because of the holidays, sick jurors, and at least one unusual incident. A court appointed driver escorting the jurors rolled down the tinted windows of their van outside the courthouse and, enraging Stewart’s supporters, reportedly blurting out, “Who is Lynne Stewart?” The judge ordered the van driver be replaced.

The identities of jurors were shielded from the public and their names were kept from court officials because Judge Koeltl felt the jurors themselves could become targets of terrorism.

Stewart’s case was closely watched by defense attorneys, many of whom viewed her prosecution as symbolic of the fight to preserve civil liberties, such as the attorney-client privilege, within a government dedicated to monitoring and eradicating terrorist activity.

While Stewart often referred to herself as the “poster girl” for the USA Patriot Act and Attorney General Ashcroft, prosecutors argued that she overstepped her bounds as a court-appointed attorney for Adbel Rahman, now serving a life sentence in a Minnesota prison for conspiring to bomb the World Trade Center in 1993 and other New York landmarks such as the United Nations two years later.

In Washington, Mr. Ashcroft’s successor, Alberto Gonzales, said the verdict was “an important step in the Justice Department’s war on terrorism.”

Mr. Gonzales said the convictions send the message that the Justice Department “will pursue both those who carry out acts of terrorism and those who assist them with their murderous goals.”

During the trial, which began last June, prosecutors said that during three videotaped prison visits with Abdel Rahman in 2000, Stewart and Yousry worked to pass messages and information between Abdel Sattar and Abdel Rahman.

Stewart denied that she had any terrorist involvement and argued that all conversations she had with a client were protected – even if that client happened to be a terrorist.

Yesterday, Stewart again defended her actions. “I’d like to think I would do it again, because it is the way a lawyer is supposed to behave,” she said.

The guilty verdicts shocked her supporters. “I’m leaving the country,” an attorney for the Center for Constitutional Rights, Matthew Strugar, said.

“What a mess,” a lawyer with the Legal Aid Society, Michael Letwin, said. “This is a chilling blow to public dissent, public dissent against the government, and the attorney-client privilege.”

Stewart, in tears, made her way through the well-wishers, hugging friends, attorneys, activists, and law students who had come to support her during the trial. She put on her coat and her scarf, entered the courthouse elevator, and prepared to address the throngs of reporters on the curb. They were waiting for her in the cold with television cameras and microphones and notebooks.

“Keep that chin up,” a friend told Stewart in the elevator.

“Chin is up, red scarf is unfurled,” she said.

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