Miami – He was convicted for terrorism and sentenced to 17 years.
But now an appeals court believes that José Padilla, a trained al-Qaida soldier from Miami, received too light a sentence, and wants him to be re-sentenced in December.
The court said the sentence was far too lenient for a convicted terrorist and former violent gang member.
U.S. District Judge Marcia Cooke on Wednesday set a Dec. 3 date for resentencing. Prosecutors previously sought the maximum life sentence for Padilla but declined to say whether they would do so again.
Padilla, a 41-year-old U.S. citizen and Muslim convert, was convicted in 2007 along with two others of terrorism support and conspiracy charges. Prior to his indictment in Miami, Padilla was held at a Navy brig for more than three years without charge as an enemy combatant.
When Cooke sentenced Padilla in 2008, she gave him credit for his time in the brig and provided other sentencing discounts totaling about 12 years below the 30-year minimum for his convictions. The 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals sided with the Justice Department in concluding Cooke committed several errors in not adding years for Padilla's training at an al-Qaida camp in Afghanistan and accounting for his 17 prior arrests.
"Padilla poses a heightened risk of dangerousness due to his al-Qaida training," the court's majority opinion said. "He is far more sophisticated than an individual convicted of an ordinary street crime."
The U.S. Supreme Court declined to hear Padilla's appeal of that ruling.
Padilla is being held in solitary confinement at the Supermax federal prison in Florence, Colo., said his attorney, chief federal public defender Michael Caruso. He said at a hearing Wednesday that he has "very limited" contact with Padilla because of prison restrictions regarding access.
"He's developed a routine to keep his mental health," Caruso added, declining to elaborate.
Padilla was arrested in 2002 at Chicago's O'Hare International Airport on what authorities said in the tense post-9/11 attacks atmosphere was an al-Qaida mission to detonate a radioactive "dirty bomb" in a major U.S. city. It later turned out the plot was barely more than a sketchy idea and the allegation was discarded long before Padilla was added to an existing Miami terrorism support case.
Padilla was indicted just as the Supreme Court was poised to take up a challenge to whether the administration of then-President George W. Bush had the constitutional authority to continue holding him without charge.
Trial testimony showed that Padilla's name appeared on an al-Qaida form listing attendees at one of its Afghan camps. That form was recovered by the CIA after the U.S. invasion and became a critical piece of evidence. Evidence also showed that Padilla took part in several violent crimes as a onetime member of Chicago's Latin Kings street gang, including involvement in a deadly fight as a juvenile.
Padilla's codefendants were Adham Hassoun, who was his South Florida recruiter, and Islamist propagandist Kifah Jayyousi. The codefendants also were convicted and sentenced to about 15 years and 12 years in prison, respectively. The appeals court upheld their convictions and sentences.
Despite the appeals court's ruling in Padilla's case, other federal judges have taken into account a defendant's time in U.S. custody as an enemy combatant.
In 2009, a judge in Illinois sentenced al-Qaida sleeper agent Ali al-Marri to a relatively light eight years in prison. The judge said al-Marri received "unacceptable" treatment during the six years he was held without charge as an enemy combatant at the same South Carolina Navy brig where Padilla was held. Al-Marri, who is from Qatar and not a U.S. citizen like Padilla, could have gotten up to 15 years behind bars.
With time off for good behavior, Padilla's current prison release date is Jan. 4, 2022.