Lodi’s Hamid Hayat released from federal prison after judge vacates terrorism conviction

Hamid Hayat is free, released Friday afternoon from Arizona federal custody nearly two weeks after a Sacramento federal judge threw out his 2006 conviction.

Hayat was released about 2 p.m. PDT Friday, Hayat’s attorney Dennis Riordan said.

“It’s been a good day,” Riordan said hours after his client’s release and at the end of the whirlwind of court filings and machinations that led to the Lodi man’s release.

The Lodi cherry picker was imprisoned for 14 years of a 24-year prison term in a remote Arizona prison. He was accused of plotting an attack on the United States after attending a terrorist training camp in Pakistan.

But U.S. District Judge Garland E. Burrell Jr. in late July vacated the sentence, ruling the 36-year-old Hayat was ineffectively represented by his rookie defense counsel.

Burrell’s order was a stunner. Hayat’s appellate attorneys could immediately seek the Lodi man’s release.

Federal prosecutors had alleged Hayat was part of a five-man al-Qaida “sleeper cell” in Lodi, and the young Hayat was later sentenced to 24 years for providing material support to terrorists. Hayat’s father – Umer, an ice cream truck driver – was charged with lying to the FBI. The elder Hayat later pleaded to a lesser charge and was sentenced to time served.

Riordan, of the San Francisco firm Riordan & Horgan, led the legal team that took on Hayat’s defense, subpoenaing witnesses from Pakistan that weren’t called at the original trial more than a decade ago and successfully arguing that federal agents coerced the then-22-year-old Hayat into false confessions.

By 2018, Riordan convinced U.S. Magistrate Judge Deborah Barnes, who in January issued a 116-page recommendation in Sacramento federal court saying Hayat’s constitutional rights were violated by his inexperienced counsel’s defense.

Advocates on Friday flew from Los Angeles to Phoenix to pick Hayat up for the drive back to the Sacramento area. Hayat was met by an attorney from CAIR, the Council on American-Islamic Relations, for what Riordan said would be a “long trip back to the Sacramento area.”

“We had a very emotional conversation,” Riordan said. “He was grateful for all who were working on his release.”

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Darrell Smith covers courts and California news for The Sacramento Bee. He joined The Bee in 2006 and previously worked at newspapers in Palm Springs, Colorado Springs, Colo., and Marysville. A Sacramento Valley native, Smith was born and raised at Beale Air Force Base, near Marysville.