Crime - Sacto 911

With his dad’s lawyer controlling the money, terror suspect couldn’t get a fair trial, witness says

Umer Hayat, right, is released from the federal courthouse in Sacramento on Monday May 1, 2006. He is shown with his attorney Johnny Griffin III.
Umer Hayat, right, is released from the federal courthouse in Sacramento on Monday May 1, 2006. He is shown with his attorney Johnny Griffin III.

Hamid Hayat, a Muslim cherry picker from Lodi who has spent 12 years in prison after allegedly attending a terrorist camp in Pakistan, couldn’t get a fair trial because his father’s lawyer had a conflict of interest, a defense witness testified in Sacramento federal court Wednesday.

Hamid, then 22, was convicted for lying to the FBI and providing support to terrorists, largely on the strength of his confession that he attended a terrorist training camp while on an extended stay in Pakistan. The defense contends the confession was false – the product of fatigue and pressure from FBI agents.

Hayat’s father, ice cream vendor Umer Hayat, was also accused of lying to the FBI. He went free after pleading guilty to a lesser charge.

Veteran San Francisco defense attorney Doron Weinberg, an expert on legal ethics, testified that the legal retainer between Umer’s lawyer, former federal prosecutor Johnny Griffin, and Hamid’s lawyer, rookie criminal defense attorney Wazhma Mojaddidi, was “fraught with problems.”

The agreement put Griffin in control of $135,000 of the $200,000 defense fund for both men, including all the money that could be used for expert witnesses, Weinberg said. Mojaddidi was paid $65,000 and any money left over went back to Griffin.

In such an arrangement, Weinberg said, “there’s a strong disincentive to the person controlling the funds to hire a qualified expert.”

Griffin made the decision not to let Hamid Hayat testify in his own defense, Weinberg said. “In 30 years, I’ve never seen an agreement like this,” he said. “Its a very dangerous thing to do because the interests of multiple clients can conflict with each other. It’s an absolute possibility the division of money puts them in a position of competing for resources.”

In one instance, Griffin paid for an expert witness to help Umer’s case, while Mojaddidi planned to rely on a volunteer witness who ultimately was not allowed to testify, Weinberg said.

Retired FBI agent James Wedick took the stand Wednesday to say he thinks the bureau violated its own procedures during Hamid’s confession, where he said it “seemed like words were being put in his mouth.”

Wedick, who served as acting special agent in charge of the Sacramento FBI office, said the bureau’s use of paid informant Naseem Khan also posed a problem. He said Khan repeatedly tried to goad Hayat into going to a terrorist training camp while he was in Pakistan for his arrangement marriage, at one point saying, “I’m going to grab you by the neck and take you to the camp myself.”

Wedick said he was so troubled by the FBI’s tactics he wanted to testify in the first trial as an expert witness. But he was not allowed to because Judge Garland E. Burrell Jr. said he didn’t qualify as an expert on false confessions.

Wedick, who had been hired by Griffin as an investigator, testified, “I came to believe the boy did not go to a camp, but the family could not afford to pay so I told them I was working for free.” He was initially paid $4,000.

Wedick added he was surprised the prosecution didn’t try to have Mojaddidi replaced as Hamid Hayat’s attorney because of the risk that the conviction would be overturned on appeal.” She was totally unable to do this trial and I think this became obvious to everybody.”

Stephen Magagnini: 916-321-1072, @SteveMagagnini.

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