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Suspects lawyer convincted for helping terrorists { February 10 2005 }

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Rights lawyer convicted of helping terrorists
Associated Press

February 10, 2005, 5:50 PM EST

Veteran civil rights lawyer Lynne Stewart was convicted Thursday of helping terrorists by smuggling messages of violence from one of her imprisoned clients -- a radical Egyptian sheik -- to his terrorist disciples on the outside.

The verdict left Stewart, 65, a firebrand, left-wing activist who has represented radicals and revolutionaries in 30 years on the New York legal scene, slumped in her chair, shaking her head and later wiping tears from her eyes.

About two dozen Stewart supporters followed her out of court, chanting, "Hands off Lynne Stewart!"

There, she vowed to appeal and blamed the conviction on evidence that included videotape of Osama bin Laden urging support for her client, Sheik Omar Abdel-Rahman, who prosecutors said communicated with the outside world with Stewart's help.

"When you put Osama bin Laden in a courtroom and ask the jury to ignore it, you're asking a lot," she said. "I know I committed no crime. I know what I did was right."

Stewart, wiping away tears that she said stemmed from worries about how her family will do without her, continued: "We are not going to give up. We're going to fight on. This is the beginning of a larger struggle."

The anonymous jury also convicted a U.S. postal worker, Ahmed Abdel Sattar, of conspiracy for plotting to "kill and kidnap persons in a foreign country" by publishing an edict urging the killing of Jews and their supporters. A third defendant, Arabic interpreter Mohamed Yousry, was convicted of providing material support to terrorists. Sattar could face life in prison and Yousry up to 20 years.

The verdict came from a jury that has deliberated off-and-on over the past month in the case on charges that carry a potential of 45 years in prison for Stewart, although lawyers have said it was likely Stewart would face a sentence of about 20 years.

As the verdict was read, Stewart's supporters gasped. She will remain free on bail but must stay in New York until her July 15 sentencing. Stewart was convicted of conspiracy, providing material support to terrorists, defrauding the United States and making false statements.

The trial focused attention on the line between zealous advocacy and criminal behavior by a lawyer. Some defense lawyers saw the case as a government warning to attorneys to tread carefully in terrorism cases.

"The purpose of this prosecution ... was to send a message to lawyers who represent alleged terrorists that it's dangerous to do so," said Michael Ratner, president of the Center for Constitutional Rights, who was not involved in the case.

However, Peter Margulies, a law professor at Roger Williams University in Rhode Island who conducted a panel on lawyers and terrorism at the American Association of Law Schools' recent annual meeting, called the verdict reasonable.

"I think lawyers need to be advocates, but they don't need to be accomplices," he said. "I think the evidence suggested that Lynne Stewart had crossed the line."

The jury heard two vastly different portraits of Stewart. Prosecutors described her as an essential and willing aide to terrorists, while defense attorney Michael Tigar focused on a lengthy legal career of representing the destitute and the despised.

The trial before U.S. District Judge John G. Koeltl began in late June 2004, with prosecutor Christopher Morvillo telling the jury in his opening statement that Stewart "used her status as a lawyer as a cloak to smuggle messages into and out of prison." He said she allowed Abdel-Rahman, the blind sheik, to "incite terrorism."

Abdel-Rahman was sentenced to life in prison after his 1995 conviction for conspiring to assassinate Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak and destroy several New York City landmarks. His lawyer was Stewart, whose client list includes Weather Underground radicals and mob turncoat Sammy "The Bull" Gravano.

Stewart repeatedly declared her innocence during the trial, maintaining she was unfairly targeted by overeager prosecutors. She testified on her own behalf as well, saying she believed violence was sometimes necessary to rid society of evil -- even in America.

"To rid ourselves of the entrenched, voracious type of capitalism that is in this country that perpetuates sexism and racism, I don't think that can come nonviolently," she said.

Prosecutors said Stewart broke a promise to the government by letting outsiders communicate with the sheik, who was in solitary confinement under special prison rules designed to stop him from communicating with anyone except his wife and his lawyers.

Tigar suggested the case was an intrusion into attorney-client privilege as the government eavesdropped on prison conversations between Stewart and the sheik.

Videotape of those prison conferences, along with audio transmissions and accompanying translations of telephone calls between Sattar and terrorists in other countries, provided the bulk of the government's case against the defendants.

In particular, prosecutors said Stewart's release of a statement withdrawing the sheik's support for a cease-fire in Egypt by his militant followers proved her guilt.

The judge warned jurors before the case began that it had nothing to do with the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.

The evidence, though, included video images of bin Laden at a meeting with one of the sheik's sons and a bin Laden associate who spoke by telephone with Sattar. Another piece of evidence was a fiery message sent by the sheik with the words, "From the American Prison."

"Drown (American) ships, shoot down their airplanes, kill them on earth in the sea or in the sky, kill them everywhere you find them," he said, according to the government exhibit.

Copyright 2005, Newsday, Inc.

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