BAGHDAD, Iraq – Saddam Hussein's lawyers on Sunday formally appealed the death sentence against their client for the killing of 148 Shiites, a court spokesman said.
Five Iraqi judges sentenced Saddam and two other senior members of his regime to death by hanging on Nov. 5 for the killings in the town of Dujail, north of Baghdad, following a 1982 attempt there on the life of the ousted leader.
Under Iraqi law, death sentences are automatically appealed before a higher court within 10 days of their passage. But defense lawyers must file a formal appeal within 30 days, detailing the legal grounds for their action and presenting new evidence that could support their clients' claims of innocence. The lawyers could also make a plea for leniency.
"Today, defense lawyers came to the court and filed an appeal against the death sentence passed against Saddam Hussein and other sentences in the Dujail case," Iraqi High Tribunal spokesman Raid Juhi told The Associated Press.
Saddam's chief lawyer, Khalil al-Dulaimi, said two lawyers on the defense team had submitted the papers. He complained that defense lawyers had not received copies of the verdict until Nov. 23, delaying the appeal process.
"Finally we were able to do it," al-Dulaimi said. "We had to hastily prepare the appeal because the court procrastinated in giving us the documents necessary for the submission in a bid to obstruct the appeal process."
Also sentenced to death by hanging was Barzan Ibrahim, Saddam's half brother and Iraq's former intelligence chief, and Awad Hamed al-Bandar, who was head of Iraq's Revolutionary Court when it condemned the Dujail residents to death following the assassination attempt.
Iraq's former Vice President Taha Yassin Ramadan was convicted of premeditated murder and sentenced to life in prison.
Three defendants were given up to 15 years in prison for torture and premeditated murder. The three — Abdullah Kazim Ruwayyid, Mizhar Abdullah Ruwayyid and Ali Dayih Ali — were party officials in Dujail who were believed responsible for the mass arrests.
A local Baath Party official, Mohammed Azawi Ali, was acquitted for lack of evidence.
The nine-judge, higher court does not have a time limit for ruling on the appeal. But the death sentences passed against Saddam, Ibrahim and al-Bandar must be carried out within a maximum of 30 days from the day they are upheld by the higher court.
If the appeals court upholds the sentences, all three members of Iraq's Presidential Council — President Jalal Talabani and Vice Presidents Tariq al-Hashimi and Adil Abdul-Mahdi — must sign death warrants before executions can be carried out.
Jaafar Moussawi, the chief prosecutor in the Dujail case, said in November that the trio could be hanged by the middle of January.
Saddam is being tried separately on charged of genocide linked to a military campaign in the 1980s against Iraq's minority Kurds in which tens of thousands of people are thought to have been killed. If convicted in that trial, the former leader could receive a second death sentence.