Lawyer for accused Hezbollah cell leader says 155-year sentence unfair

The Charlotte ObserverDecember 13, 2010 

Mohamad Hammoud has spent 10 years behind bars for conspiring to aid Middle Eastern terrorists. The 37-year-old suspected leader of a Hezbollah cell in Charlotte has 145 years left on his sentence.

But Hammoud is fighting to get out of prison now.

His attorneys will try to persuade U.S. District Judge Graham Mullen at a hearing Wednesday to slash Hammoud's sentence to time served - or at least to no more than 15 years in prison.

"The overwhelming evidence here is that Mr. Hammoud's original sentence is a miscarriage of justice," defense attorneys James McLoughlin of Charlotte and Stanley Cohen of New York argued in court documents.

Hammoud should not be sentenced to spend the rest of his life in prison because of what his lawyers say are irrational fears about him and Hezbollah.

Hammoud's attorneys say their client should get no more than 15 years in prison. Any longer sentence, they argue, would be "unconstitutionally disproportionate" and "grossly excessive."

But federal prosecutors are urging the judge to keep Hammoud in prison for the rest of his life.

"Defendant was motivated by fanatical terrorist ideology and, thus, represents a serious future danger to society," Assistant U.S. Attorneys David Brown and Craig Randall wrote in court documents. "Any sentence less than life imprisonment will provide defendant the opportunity and the motivation to carry out acts of violence in support of Hezbollah."

Hezbollah was responsible for the 1983 suicide attack on the U.S. Marine barracks in Lebanon that killed 241 Americans, prosecutors say, "and ushered in the modern age of suicide attacks."

Hammoud's case is among hundreds that the U.S. Supreme Court has sent back to courts across the country following a ruling in 2005 to abandon nearly two decades of federal sentencing practices.

Federal judges no longer have to follow the complex system of guidelines that Congress designed in the 1980s to make prison terms tougher and more uniform.

The nation's highest court didn't throw out the guidelines altogether. Instead, the justices ruled that they are to be advisory - not mandatory as they had been.

Hammoud was the first person tried in the United States under a 1996 federal law banning material support to terrorist organizations.

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