MIAMI – A sentencing hearing for convicted terrorism conspirator Jose Padilla and two other men began Tuesday with defense lawyers raising more than 90 objections to a report that could determine whether their clients spend the rest of their lives in prison.
Defense attorneys say the report, which supports prosecutors' requests for life terms, contains inaccuracies and mischaracterizations about evidence introduced during the trial.
The hearing is expected to last at least three days, with U.S. District Judge Marcia Cooke, an appointee of President Bush, planning to hear each objection individually.
"This could be a very complex exercise," said Assistant U.S. Attorney Brian Frazier.
Padilla, 37, a U.S. citizen, has spent more than five years in custody, first as an enemy combatant and purported "dirty bomb" plotter and then after he was charged with being part of a North American support cell for Islamic extremists including Al Qaeda.
Padilla was convicted of three terrorism-related charges in August after a three-month trial along with co-defendants Adham Amin Hassoun, 45, and 46-year-old Kifah Wael Jayyousi.
Sentencing guidelines recommend 30 years to life for Padilla and life for Hassoun and Jayyousi because of their leadership roles.
Padilla's lawyers say he deserves no more than a 10-year sentence. Hassoun is asking for a term of four to six years, and Jayyousi says he deserves only probation and, at most, 21 months behind bars.
Padilla, a U.S. citizen, was held for 3 1/2 years without criminal charge after his May 2002 arrest at Chicago's O'Hare International Airport. Authorities said at the time he was on an Al Qaeda mission to detonate a radioactive "dirty bomb" inside the U.S.
Those charges were later dropped and Padilla, allegedly recruited by Hassoun for Al Qaeda while living in South Florida, was added in late 2005 to a Miami terrorism support case just as challenges to his detention were headed to the U.S Supreme Court.
After a three-month trial, all three men were convicted in August of conspiracy and terrorism material support charges.
Padilla claims he deserves leniency because government agents "intentionally inflicted psychological pain and suffering" during his long, isolated incarceration as an enemy combatant at a Navy brig in South Carolina. Last week, he sued a top Justice Department official who wrote legal memos justifying his detention.
Bush administration officials have repeatedly denied that Padilla was mistreated or tortured in military custody.