NEW YORK – A veteran civil rights lawyer was convicted Thursday of crossing the line by smuggling messages of violence from one of her jailed clients — a radical Egyptian sheik — to his terrorist disciples on the outside.
The jury deliberated 13 days over the past month before convicting Lynne Stewart (search), 65, a firebrand, left-wing activist known for representing radicals and revolutionaries in her 30 years on the New York legal scene.
The trial, which began last June, focused attention on the line between zealous advocacy and criminal behavior by a lawyer. Some defense lawyers saw the case as a government warning to attorneys to tread carefully in terrorism cases.
Stewart slumped in her chair as the verdict was read, shaking her head and later wiping tears from her eyes.
Her supporters gasped upon hearing the conviction, and about two dozen of them followed her out of court, chanting, "Hands off Lynne Stewart!"
She vowed to appeal and blamed the conviction on evidence that included videotape of Usama bin Laden urging support for her client. The defense protested the bin Laden evidence, and the judge warned jurors that the case did not involve the events of Sept. 11.
"When you put Usama bin Laden in a courtroom and ask the jury to ignore it, you're asking a lot," she said. "I know I committed no crime. I know what I did was right."
Lawyers have said Stewart most likely would face a sentence of about 20 years on charges that include conspiracy, providing material support to terrorists, defrauding the government and making false statements.
She will remain free on bail but must stay in New York until her July 15 sentencing.
The anonymous jury also convicted a U.S. postal worker, Ahmed Abdel Sattar (search), of plotting to "kill and kidnap persons in a foreign country" by publishing an edict urging the killing of Jews and their supporters.
A third defendant, Arabic interpreter Mohamed Yousry (search), was convicted of providing material support to terrorists. Sattar could face life in prison and Yousry up to 20 years.
Attorney General Alberto Gonzales called the verdict "an important step" in the war on terrorism.
"The convictions handed down by a federal jury in New York today send a clear, unmistakable message that this department will pursue both those who carry out acts of terrorism and those who assist them with their murderous goals," Gonzales said.
Stewart was the lawyer for Omar Abdel-Rahman (search), a blind sheik sentenced to life in prison in 1996 for conspiring to assassinate Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak and destroy several New York landmarks, including the U.N. building and the Lincoln and Holland Tunnels. Stewart's co-defendants also had close ties to Abdel-Rahman.
Prosecutors said Stewart and the others carried messages between the sheik and senior members of an Egyptian-based terrorist organization, helping spread Abdel-Rahman's venomous call to kill those who did not subscribe to his extremist interpretation of Islamic law.
Prosecutor Andrew Dember argued that Stewart and her co-defendants essentially "broke Abdel-Rahman out of jail, made him available to the worst kind of criminal we find in this world — terrorists."
At the time, the sheik was in solitary confinement in Minnesota under special prison rules to keep him from communicating with anyone except his wife and his lawyers.
Michael Ratner, president of the Center for Constitutional Rights (search), said the purpose of the prosecution of Stewart "was to send a message to lawyers who represent alleged terrorists that it's dangerous to do so."
But Peter Margulies, a law professor at Roger Williams University (search) in Rhode Island who conducted a panel on lawyers and terrorism recently, called the verdict reasonable.
"I think lawyers need to be advocates, but they don't need to be accomplices," he said. "I think the evidence suggested that Lynne Stewart had crossed the line."
Stewart, who once represented Weather Underground (search) radicals and mob turncoat Sammy "The Bull" Gravano (search), repeatedly declared her innocence, maintaining she was unfairly targeted by overzealous prosecutors.
But she also testified that she believed violence was sometimes necessary to achieve justice: "To rid ourselves of the entrenched, voracious type of capitalism that is in this country that perpetuates sexism and racism, I don't think that can come nonviolently."
A major part of the prosecution's case was Stewart's 2000 release of a statement withdrawing the sheik's support for a cease-fire in Egypt by his militant followers.
Prosecutors, though, could point to no violence that resulted from the statement.