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Court rules Padilla’s 17-year terror sentence ‘too lenient’

(FILES)This undated file phoobtained 01 June 2004 from FloridDepartment Motor Vehicles shows Jose Padilla. PadillUS citizen arrested 2002 for an

(FILES)This undated file photo obtained 01 June 2004 from the Florida Department of Motor Vehicles shows Jose Padilla. Padilla, the US citizen arrested in 2002 for an alleged "dirty bomb" plot, got off too lightly when he was sentenced to more than 17 years in prison, a federal appeals court ruled September 19, 2011. The three judge panel tossed out Padilla's sentence and ordered a new hearing to determine a more appropriate punishment for his crimes. Padilla, 40, dubbed the "Puerto Rican Taliban," was arrested in May 2002 at Chicago's O'Hare airport after returning from Egypt and was taken to a US navy prison in South Carolina. US authorities justified his detention without charge saying he was an "enemy combatant" who allegedly planned to explode a radioactive bomb in the country. AFP PHOTO/FILES/FLORIDA DMV (Photo credit should read HO/AFP/Getty Images)

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Updated: November 10, 2011 12:52PM

The 17-year prison sentence imposed on convicted terrorism plotter and former Chicagoan Jose Padilla is far too lenient for someone who trained to kill at an al-Qaida camp and also has a long, violent criminal history, a federal appeals court ruled Monday as it threw out the sentence.

A divided three-judge panel of the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ordered a new sentencing hearing for Padilla, a U.S. citizen and Muslim convert convicted in 2007 along with two co-conspirators of several terrorism-related charges. Padilla, 40, was held for more than three years without charge as an enemy combatant before he was added to the Miami terror support case.

The ruling affirmed the convictions of Padilla, Adham Hassoun and Kifah Jayyousi on terrorism support and conspiracy charges. The sentences of Hassoun and Jayyousi — more than 15 years and more than 12 years, respectively — were also upheld.

Federal prosecutors objected in 2008 to Padilla’s sentence and the appeals panel’s majority agreed that U.S. District Judge Marcia Cooke, who presided over the four-month trial, made several errors in essentially discounting his sentence by 12 years. Among the mistakes, the appeals court found, was not taking into account Padilla’s training at the al-Qaida camp in Afghanistan.

“Padilla poses a heightened risk of future dangerousness due to his al-Qaida training,” the judges ruled.

The judges also noted Padilla’s 17 prior arrests, including involvement in a deadly fight as a juvenile, and ruled it was wrong for Cooke to use as a reference point several other terrorism cases in which defendants got relatively light sentences. The appeals panel also found error in Cooke’s decision to reduce Padilla’s sentence to account for his three-plus years at a South Carolina military brig as an enemy combatant.

“Although some downward variance is allowed in this circumstance, the district court abused its discretion,” said the ruling written by the 11th Circuit Chief Judge Joel F. Dubina, who was joined by Circuit Judge William H. Pryor.

Dissenting was Circuit Judge Rosemary Barkett, who found some problems with an FBI agent’s testimony during trial and said that Padilla was not informed of his Miranda rights when he was arrested at O’Hare Airport in 2002. Padilla was initially suspected of plotting to detonate a radioactive “dirty bomb” in the U.S., but that allegation was discarded long before the trial.


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