Appeals in Pearl Murder Conviction Could Take Over a Year

The lawyer for a British-born Islamic militant sentenced to hang for the kidnap-murder of an American reporter said Tuesday he is prepared for a battle in Pakistan's appeals courts that could take more than a year. 

Daniel Pearl was kidnapped in the southern port city of Karachi on Jan. 23. In February, the U.S. Consulate here received a gruesome three-minute videotape of his murder. 

A Pakistani judge on Monday convicted Ahmed Omar Saeed Sheikh and three others accused in the crime. The trial took place in a heavily guarded courtroom in the Hyderabad Jail, 110 miles northeast of Karachi. 

Saeed was sentenced to hang and the other three men — Salman Saqib, Fahad Naseem and Shaikh Adil — were sentenced to life imprisonment, which in Pakistan means 25 years. Seven other suspects remain at large. 

Chief prosecutor Raja Quereshi said Tuesday that he had filed an appeal with the High Court of Sindh province asking that the prison sentences for the three other defendants be upgraded to death. 

Defendants have seven days to file an appeal to a provincial High Court. Saeed's lawyer, Abdul Waheed Katpar, told The Associated Press he would file an appeal by Friday. 

The first court of appeal is the provincial High Court and proceedings there could take five months, Katpar said. Depending on the outcome there, Saeed could then appeal to the Supreme Court. 

Azizullah Sheikh, a prominent defense lawyer, said the paperwork in an appeal can take anywhere from two weeks to "years," depending on whether the sides want to expedite the process. 

Before appeal hearings can even begin, dozens of documents and other evidence used in the trial would have to be translated from Urdu into English — a job that would take two months at least, Katpar said Tuesday. Saeed's lawyer is arguing that the judge ignored defense evidence and accepted only prosecution evidence. 

If Katpar wins in the High Court and his client is acquitted, prosecutors are certain to appeal to the Supreme Court to restore the conviction. 

"So either way it will have to go to the Supreme Court," Katpar said. "This is likely to take another five or six months." 

The entire process could take up to a year, Katpar said. 

The trial has enraged Pakistan's Islamic militant movement, which considers President Pervez Musharraf a traitor for backing the United States in the war against terrorism. 

After being sentenced to hang, Saeed threatened Pakistan's leaders, saying "We shall see who will die first — me or the authorities who have arranged the death sentence for me." 

Katpar suggested Tuesday the appeal process might produce surprises. 

"Anything can happen in Pakistan," he said. 

The first surprise may come with the results of DNA testing on a body found in May. The body, found in a shallow grave near a mud brick cabin stained with blood and littered with evidence of Pearl's presence, is believed to be the remains of the reporter. 

From the cabin, police recovered a car seat on which Pearl was sitting in photographs that accompanied e-mails sent to media outlets by his kidnappers. They threatened to kill Pearl unless Taliban and Al Qaeda prisoners held by U.S. authorities in Cuba received better treatment and access to lawyers. Pieces of clothing that had belonged to Pearl were also recovered. 

The e-mails were sent by a previously unknown group called the National Movement for the Restoration of Pakistani Sovereignty. Saeed's three co-defendants were linked to the e-mails. 

Saeed was said to have lured Pearl to a Karachi restaurant under the pretext that he would introduce him to an Islamic cleric. 

Police were led to the body by three men believed to be members of the outlawed Lashkar-e-Janghvi organization, whose members are also implicated in the June 14 car bombing outside the U.S. Consulate in Karachi that killed 12 Pakistanis. 

Katpar said DNA tests confirm the body is Pearl and new suspects are charged, he will demand a fresh trial for his client. 

"The judgment would have to be set aside and everything would have to start again," he said. It's not clear the prosecution would accept that argument. 

Katpar claimed that Monday's verdict and the death sentence against Saeed were politically motivated and that Musharraf's government manipulated the anti-terrorist court to get a guilty verdict. 

"But in the High Court I have hope because there some judges do resist [political] pressure," he said. The judges who sit on the anti-terrorist bench "are poor men who can't resist easily," he said.