MIAMI – The accusations that he plotted to set off a radioactive "dirty bomb" are long gone, but Jose Padilla was still convicted last summer of conspiring to support Islamic extremists around the world.
Now a federal judge who sat through a three-month trial and seven-day sentencing hearing was set to decide Tuesday the fate of the 37-year-old U.S. citizen and two co-defendants.
U.S. District Judge Marcia Cooke, appointed by President Bush, has wide discretion in determining how much time the three men will spend behind bars.
Prosecutors call Padilla a dangerous Al Qaeda operative who deserves life in prison. His lawyers say there is no evidence he ever committed a terrorist act, and that he shouldn't get the maximum sentence in part because he was treated harshly while held as an enemy combatant for 3 1/2 years following his 2002 arrest.
He was initially accused of plotting with Al Qaeda to detonate a radioactive "dirty bomb" in a major U.S. city, but those charges were dropped.
Padilla was added in 2005 to an existing Miami terrorism support case just as the U.S. Supreme Court was considering his challenge to President Bush's decision to hold him in military custody indefinitely without charge.
Padilla and the other two defendants were convicted in August of terrorism conspiracy and material support charges. Jurors found that they took part in a North American support cell for Al Qaeda and other Islamic extremist groups around the world.
The other two defendants are 45-year-old Adham Amin Hassoun, a computer programmer of Palestinian descent who allegedly recruited Padilla, and 46-year-old Kifah Wael Jayyousi, an engineer and schools administrator originally from Jordan who provided finances and propaganda for Islamic extremists in Chechnya, Afghanistan, Somalia and elsewhere, according to trial testimony.
Padilla sought a sentence of no more than 10 years. Hassoun asked for 15 years or less and Jayyousi for no more than five years.
The men were convicted after a lengthy trial based on tens of thousands of FBI telephone intercepts collected over an eight-year investigation and a form Padilla filled out in 2000 to attend an Al Qaeda training camp in Afghanistan.
Padilla, a former Chicago gang member with a long criminal record, converted to Islam in prison and was recruited by Hassoun while attending a mosque in suburban Sunrise.
Civil liberties groups and Padilla's lawyers called his detention unconstitutional for someone born in this country and contended that he was only charged criminally because the Supreme Court appeared poised to order him either charged or released.
Attorneys for Hassoun and Jayyousi argued that any assistance they provided overseas was for peaceful purposes and to help persecuted Muslims in wartorn countries. But FBI agents testified that their charitable work was a cover for violent jihad, which they frequently discussed in code using words such as "tourism" and "football."