Spared death penalty and life in prison for his ‘cooperation.’
CHICAGO: It was not the death penalty – which he avoided by his cooperation with federal prosecutors, nor the life sentence which most were convinced he deserved to get, but finally, come judgment time, David Coleman Headley, the US-born Pakistani American terrorist who was a key planner of the dastardly Mumbai massacre that killed more than 160 people in 2008, was sentenced at the federal court here to 35 years in prison, today.
U.S. District Judge Harry Leinenweber could have imposed a life sentence but chose the sentence recommended by federal prosecutors who wanted Headley rewarded for his extensive cooperation in spite of his help in the deadly attacks in India, reported the Chicago Tribune.
Before imposing the 35-year prison term, the judge said he wanted to make sure Headley, 52, is “never in a position again to commit a terrorist attack.” Leinenweber was skeptical of a letter that Headley recently wrote to him. “I don’t have any faith in Mr. Headley when he says he’s a changed person,” the judge said. Headley should be “under lock and key for the rest of his life,” Leinenweber said.
In the letter, Headley claimed he was learning to embrace “American values” and coming to grips with how he was convinced to plan terrorist attacks under the guise of religious obligation, Leinenweber said.
“Mr. Headley’s letter to the judge expressed his sincere remorse,” Robert Seeder, one of Headley’s attorney, told reporters after the sentencing. “He did explain in that letter what led him to this and how sorry he was. And I think we’ll leave it at that.”
During the hearing, another defense attorney told the judge that Headley “literally saved lives” by providing valuable information that “no one else knew” about terrorist activities. “He has never minimized his role,” attorney John Theis said. “He has accepted responsibility,” reported the Tribune.
Theis told reporters later he had asked the judge for a specific sentence for Headley, but he declined to reveal the length, saying the request was made under seal.
Before the sentence was handed down, a victim of the terror attack told the judge how surprised she was by the youth of the terrorists who stormed into a hotel’s first-floor cafe while she was eating there.
Linda Ragsdale, a Nashville woman who was shot in the back during the 2008 rampage, recalled wondering how a man as young as her son could kill innocent people. Holding back tears, Ragsdale described a barrage of bullets so intense that “waves of heat clouded” her vision.
“I know what a bullet could do to every part of the human body,” Ragsdale said, said the Tribune report. “I know the sound of life leaving a 13-year-old child. These are things I never needed to know, never needed to experience.”
Ragsdale also read from a statement written by a woman whose husband and daughter were killed at the Oberoi Hotel who said it would be an “appalling dishonor” if Headley was sentenced to the 30 to 35 years in prison recommended by federal prosecutors.
But former U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald, making a surprise appearance at the sentencing hearing, told Leinenweber he should consider the “unusual nature” of Headley’s cooperation even though Headley was involved in a “very, very heinous crime.”
On the night of his arrest at O’Hare International Airport, Headley “freely admitted” his role in the Mumbai massacre within half an hour of being given his Miranda rights, Fitzgerald said.
The New York Times reported that according to court documents, Headley attended Lashkar-e-Taiba training camps in Pakistan between 2002 and 2005. He later admitted to scouting targets in Mumbai for the group before the raids in November 2008, in which 163 people and 9 gunmen died. Six of the victims were American.
After his arrest at a Chicago airport a year later, Headley pleaded guilty to 12 conspiracy charges over his involvement in the Mumbai attack and a proposed terrorist plot against a Danish newspaper that published cartoon caricatures of the Prophet Muhammad. Prosecutors said that Headley immediately began sharing information that led to criminal charges against at least seven other people. He also testified against his co-defendant, the Chicago businessman Tahawwur Rana, who last week was sentenced to 14 years in prison, said Times.
In exchange for his cooperation, which is expected to continue while he is in prison, prosecutors also agreed not to seek the death penalty or extradite Headley to Pakistan, India or Denmark.