Sentence Reduced for Egyptian Grandmother in Kidnapping Case

A wealthy Egyptian woman convicted of conspiring to kidnap her grandson in the U.S. and take him to Cairo has had her jail sentence reduced from 10 years to three.

Afaf Khalifa, 60, was found guilty in January on felony kidnapping charges for helping her daughter, Nermeen, steal 6-year-old Adam Shannon away from his father, Michael Shannon — a Maryland resident who has full custody of the boy — and fly the child from New York to Cairo.

Adam’s brother Jason, 2, was also taken, but Nermeen had custody of him at the time so the case has focused solely on Adam. Custody of Jason has since been turned over to 42-year-old Michael.

A Maryland circuit court judge in Annapolis slapped Khalifa with a 10-year prison sentence and a $15,000 fine in January unless she returned both boys to their father.

But on Thursday, that sentence was reduced by a three-judge panel to three years behind bars and $5,000 in fines.

“Of course I’m disappointed, but I’m also glad they didn’t reduce it to probation to 1 year,” Michael Shannon said in a phone interview, referring to legal sentencing guidelines. “We didn’t even expect to get three years in January. I think the judge was trying to make an example out of her.”

The panel ruled that the original punishment went beyond what the law allows for such a crime. Legal guidelines call for probation to 1 year in prison, with a maximum jail sentence of three years.

Michael Shannon has not seen his boys since August 2001, when they were kidnapped during what was supposed to be a weeklong unsupervised visit with their mother and grandmother.

Since then, Nermeen has kept Adam and Jason with her in Egypt. She lost custody of them in the divorce proceedings because of child abuse charges and problems with alcohol, according to court documents.

Khalifa, meanwhile, has been locked in a prison cell in the Maryland Correctional Institute for Women (search) for the past four months. The majority of the facility’s inmates have been convicted of violent crimes.

Authorities have an outstanding warrant for Nermeen’s arrest, who is holding her children overseas in violation of several court orders.

But because Egypt has not signed the Hague Convention’s (search) international abduction treaty, designed to prevent a child’s wrongful kidnapping, there is little the U.S. government can do to get Adam, Jason and the 10,000 other child international abduction victims back.

Michael has enlisted the help of high-profile Chicago attorney Jeffery M. Leving, who reunited 6-year-old Elian Gonzalez, of Cuba, with his biological father in the much publicized custody case.

Leving said in a telephone interview that his initial strategy is to sue Nermeen for monetary damages for denying the boys’ father visitation rights.

“That will put some pressure on her,” said Leving. “Visitation interference is illegal in Egypt.”

Leving also said that the grandmother’s sentence reduction was a blow to the efforts to bring the boys home.

“The reduction in sentence is definitely going to hurt the biological father and children,” he said. “There’s a good chance she (Nermeen) would have cooperated had it not been reduced. The court has taken away a substantial pressure on the mother.”

But Michael Shannon isn’t giving up hope.

“I’m still certain I’ll get them back,” he said.

Khalifa’s defense attorney, William C. Brennan, and assistant state’s attorney Laura Kiessling, who prosecuted the case in Annapolis, could not be reached for comment.