DETROIT – A former U.S. Marine convicted of criminal charges in Iran after being accused of working for the CIA will appeal for a new trial after already seeing his sentence reduced once, his lawyer said Sunday.
Amir Hekmati, a dual U.S.-Iranian citizen born in Arizona and raised in Michigan, was arrested in August 2011, then tried, convicted and sentenced to death for spying. However, Iran's Supreme Court annulled the death sentence after Hekmati appealed, ordering a retrial in 2012. The country's Revolutionary Court then overturned his conviction for espionage, instead charging him with "cooperating with hostile governments" and sentenced him to 10 years in prison.
Mahmoud Alizadeh Tabatabaei, Hekmati's lawyer, told The Associated Press that he would appeal the 10-year prison sentence as well.
The remarks came on Monday's Memorial Day holiday that also marks Hekmati's 1,000th day in custody, and Michigan Democratic U.S. Rep. Dan Kildee said it is long past time for Iran to free him.
"During his captivity, Amir's father has fallen terribly ill with brain cancer, and there is no greater wish from his father than to see his son again," U.S. Rep. Dan Kildee, a Michigan Democrat whose district includes the Hekmati family, said in a statement. "For 1,000 days, his family has also suffered as Amir continues to be held on unjust charges. They want nothing more than their family to be whole and in one place again. "Simply put, it is time for Amir Hekmati to come home."
Tabatabaei said Hekmati had handed his request for a rehearing to prison authorities.
The lawyer said he is optimistic about the possibility of a new hearing and lessening Hekmati's sentence since he has argued that the United States is not considered a hostile government by Iran's top security body, the Supreme National Security Council headed by moderate President Hassan Rouhani. Iran only considers Israel a hostile government, officially.
"We have argued that the American government is not a hostile government, because the definition of hostile government rests within the hands of the Supreme National Security Council according to the law, and the council has never made such an interpretation," of the U.S government.
He said if the court accepts the reasoning "there will remain no conviction that would justify such a heavy punishment."
Iranian prosecutors said Hekmati received special training and served at U.S. military bases in Iraq and Afghanistan before heading to Iran as a spy.
The Obama administration in November asked for Iran to free Hekmati and two other Americans believed held there, as relations recently have thawed between Washington and Rouhani. The call comes as world powers continue negotiations with Iran over its contested nuclear program.
Hekmati's family, which lives in the Flint, Michigan, area, says he is innocent and only went to Iran to visit his grandmothers. The U.S. government repeatedly has denied the 31 year old is a spy. The Associated Press left phone and email messages for family representatives Sunday.
Previously, Tabatabaei said he sought Hekmati's conditional freedom from Evin prison, north of the capital, Tehran. Hekmati has been behind bars since his arrest.
Conditional freedom could allow Hekmati to leave the country, depending on what a court decides. That could allow Hekmati to visit his father Ali Hekmati, a professor at Mott Community College in Flint, Michigan, who family members say has been diagnosed with terminal brain cancer and recently suffered a stroke.
Tabatabaei said Hekmati's situation is fine in prison and "He spends most of his time reading."