Defense Lawyer Files Appeals in Pearl Case

A defense lawyer appealed Wednesday to a Pakistani court on behalf of three of the four Islamic militants convicted of the kidnap-slaying of American reporter Daniel Pearl. 

Calling the prosecution's case "false and baseless," attorney Rai Bashir asked the Sindh High Court to overturn the conviction handed down Monday against Salman Saqib, Fahad Naseem and Shaikh Adil. They received life sentences, which in Pakistan means 25 years in prison. 

In documents submitted to the appeals court, Bashir said the prosecution had failed to provide any evidence of his clients' guilt and the judge systematically dismissed all defense points of argument. 

The judge "adopted the pick and choose method in this case," Bashir said in his petition. "The learned trial court only considered the points ... which were favorable to the prosecution." 

Adil did not sign the power of attorney authorizing Bashir to represent him in the appeal. After sentencing, Adil's relatives said he would not appeal because he had no faith in the legal system. 

However, the collective appeal was accepted by the court registrar. 

Bashir does not represent the fourth defendant, Ahmed Omar Saeed Sheikh, who was sentenced to death. Saeed's lawyer, Abdul Waheed Katpar, said he would file his appeal by Friday. 

From there, the four could appeal to the Supreme Court. The process could take months. 

Pearl disappeared Jan. 23 in Karachi while researching links between Pakistani extremists and Richard C. Reid, arrested in December on a flight from Paris to Miami with explosives in his shoes. 

E-mails received by news organizations a few days later included pictures showing Pearl in captivity. A videotape received by U.S. diplomats in February confirmed Pearl was dead. 

A body believed to be Pearl's was found a few days later in a shallow grave in Karachi, but the results of DNA tests have not been announced. 

The prosecution said FBI agents traced the e-mails to Naseem, who identified the three others, who were arrested in February. The defense claims Naseem's statement was coerced. 

Saeed admitted his role in the kidnapping during his initial court appearance on Feb. 14 but recanted. His statement was inadmissible because it was not made under oath. 

Against Adil, prosecutors had produced only one piece of evidence — a handwritten script of one of the Pearl e-mails, Bashir said. A prosecution witness testified that the handwriting was similar to Adil's, but admitted under cross-examination that he was not a handwriting expert, and there was no independent corroboration of his opinion, Bashir said. 

Bashir said the only evidence against Saqib were confessions made by him and Naseem, neither of which should have been accepted as evidence because they were later retracted. Both men claimed they were coerced by police. 

Prosecutors said Naseem owned a laptop computer from which the e-mails showing Pearl in captivity were sent. But Bashir said all of the evidence connected to the computer was inconsistent and contradictory, including when it was seized. And the laptop produced in court had a different serial number than the one recorded in police records, Bashir said. 

A witness from the Internet company with which Naseem held an account testified under cross examination that Naseem was not logged in at the time the e-mails about Pearl were sent, Bashir said. 

"There is not even a single piece of evidence against the appellants to prove the offenses in which they have been convicted, hence the judgment should be set aside," Bashir said.