Attorneys for Hamid Hayat, a Lodi-area man convicted on terrorism charges in 2006, have launched a new effort to free him, filing court papers Wednesday seeking to vacate his conviction. They claim to have new evidence showing it would have been impossible for Hayat to have received terrorist training at a camp in Pakistan as the federal government contended.
The filing is the latest in a series of attempts to revisit the case against the 30-year-old former cherry packer, who was arrested in 2005 along with his father and sentenced to 24 years in prison. Hayat’s father, ice cream street vendor Umer Hayat, was charged with making false statements. He eventually pleaded guilty to a lesser charge and was sentenced to time served while he awaited trial.
The terrorism case generated international headlines in the wake of the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks and caused widespread fear among the Muslim population in the Lodi area.
Hamid Hayat’s conviction on four counts of terrorism and lying to the FBI was upheld last March by a panel of the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals and has been the subject of previous attempts to gain a new trial for the Stockton-born man.
Much of the effort to win Hayat a new trial or vacate his conviction stems from his current attorney’s claims that Hayat’s trial attorney had never before handled a criminal case and was not competent to represent him.
“The petitioner, Hamid Hayat, was utterly failed by his attorney, and as a result, has spent nine years locked in prison for a crime he did not commit, an injustice that this court must now remedy,” Hayat’s current attorney, Dennis Riordan, wrote in a 126-page memorandum filed in U.S. District Court in Sacramento.
The trial attorney, Wazhma Mojaddidi, is now a “well respected attorney specializing in immigrations and family law matters,” Riordan’s documents note.
But at the time of Hayat’s trial she had been a practicing attorney for only 18 months and “failed to perform the most basic defense functions needed to defend Hamid.”
“Hamid’s trial bore little resemblance to a fair adversarial proceeding,” Riordan wrote. “Yet Ms. Mojaddidi, without the slightest experience in criminal law and no investigative resources, nearly brought the government’s large and deeply resourced legal team to its knees.”
The claims about Hayat’s representation have been raised before, and Mojaddidi, who specializes in family law cases in Sacramento, has rejected them, saying she felt she provided a competent defense. She said Wednesday that she cooperated with Umer Hayat’s attorney on a joint defense.
“I worked closely with Johnny Griffin, an experienced criminal defense attorney, in the case,” she wrote in an emailed statement. “I believe that I provided competent representation with his support.”
Riordan is seeking to have Hayat’s conviction and sentence vacated and a hearing scheduled that would allow for the introduction of evidence that he contends should have been discovered and presented at trial.
In a letter last month to U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder, Riordan contended that Hayat “was subject to warrantless electronic surveillance in Pakistan” and that obtaining records of that surveillance “will support Mr. Hayat’s defense that he is innocent and never visited a terrorist training camp in Pakistan.”
Riordan’s court filing notes that intelligence documents released by National Security Agency leaker Edward Snowden indicate widespread warrantless surveillance by the NSA in Pakistan.
The filing also contends that Hayat could not have trained at the camp the government claims he entered because it had been closed down by the Pakistani government and “did not even exist at the relevant times.”
Riordan’s filing also states that he has obtained affidavits from 18 witnesses to Hayat’s time in Pakistan from April 2003 to May 2005 who “provide irrefutable proof” that Hayat “never left the company of his friends and family to attend a militant training camp or for any other purpose.”
The government contends that Hayat went to Pakistan to train in such a camp, a contention based in part on statements Hayat made to FBI agents. Hayat’s attorneys have attacked his interrogation by FBI agents, saying he went to Pakistan to see his mother and to get married.
They contend his statements were made during a “marathon FBI interrogation” during which he provided “often comical descriptions of militant camps, made while yawning and dozing caused by exhaustion,” and aimed at getting the agents to “let him go home.”
Such claims have raised controversy about the case, but the U.S. attorney who was in charge of the prosecution at the time has said justice was done.
McGregor Scott, now a Sacramento attorney, has called it “a righteous prosecution and a just result.”
The effort to revisit Hayat’s conviction comes as federal prosecutors in Sacramento are handling another international terror prosecution from the Lodi area.
The pending case involves Nicholas Michael Teausant, a 20-year-old student and Acampo resident charged with attempting to provide material support and resources to a foreign terrorist organization by trying to travel to Syria to join an al-Qaida-linked group.
Teausant, who is being held in the Sacramento County jail without bail, has pleaded not guilty.