On Monday a federal court in Sacramento will hold an evidentiary hearing on Hamid Hayat, 35, currently serving a 24-year sentence on terrorism charges. Hayat’s legal team will attempt to vacate the 2006 conviction, with support from the northern California division of the Council on American Islamic Relations.
“We welcome the court's decision to hear new evidence in this case and hope that Mr. Hayat will be given a fair chance to present his appeal,” said CAIR executive director Basim Elkarra in a statement. “With Mr. Hayat’s case, there are legitimate concerns that he did not receive a fair trial.”
The Muslim Legal Fund of America “began funding the expenses for this case in 2014 because representatives were deeply concerned over growing evidence that Hayat was convicted largely on the basis of his religious identity rather than any evidence of wrongdoing.” According to MLFA executive director Khalil Meek, “Hayat was essentially convicted for possessing a prayer written on paper that asked God for protection. Imagine what impact this will have on everyone’s First Amendment rights if this conviction stands.”
Hayat’s lawyer Dennis Riordan, one of the top appeal attorneys in the nation, told the MLFA, “We believe that this is the most important legal case involving Muslim interests currently in courts of this country. This motion to vacate Hayat’s conviction is currently the best vehicle for exposing the harmful effects of anti-Muslim bias in American courtrooms.” Last June, Riordan told the Intercept, “It’s going to be obvious that, not only should he have prevailed at trial, but that he’s factually innocent.”
The January 29 hearing was ordered by federal judge Deborah Barnes, a relative newcomer to California’s Eastern District bench and a veteran of the California attorney general’s office. So Hayat’s CAIR and MFLA-backed legal team had done some judge shopping and it paid off. Barnes’ June 7, 2017 order raised “serious questions concerning the competency of the defense.”
Hamid Hayat was convicted in 2006 on four counts of terrorism and lying to the FBI. In 2013 the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals upheld his conviction and in 2014 U.S. District Judge Garland Burrell denied Hayat’s motion for summary judgment to vacate his conviction. Following that ruling former U.S. Attorney McGregor Scott, who headed the Hayat’s 2006 prosecution, told reporters it was “a righteous prosecution and a just result.”
In 2007, federal authorities argued against a new trial for Hayat, and as their legal brief noted, Hayat claimed that jihad was the duty of all Muslims. In recorded interviews, Hayat gleefully stated he was “so pleased” that jihadis had cut Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl “into pieces.” Hayat said Pearl “was Jewish” and that as a result of this “good job,” now “they can’t send one Jewish person to Pakistan.”
The brief noted that from 1990 to 2000, Hayat was raised by his grandparents in Rawalpindi, Pakistan, where Hayat attended a madrassa run by his grandfather. The California-born Hayat explained that the United States was his country “in name only,” that his “heart belongs to Pakistan,” and that he “never, ever considered himself American.”
Hayat and his father Umer Hayat, who also served time for lying to the FBI, sent money to the Sipah-e-Sahaba (SSP) jihadi group. After initial denials, Hayat told FBI agents, “he attended a jihadi camp both in 2000 and 2003-4, that he received training, and that he returned to the United States with an intent to commit jihad here.”
Hayat’s 2006 attorney Wazhma Mojaddidi served as president of CAIR in Sacramento and conducted the defense in concert with former federal prosecutor Johnny Griffin III. Hayat’s current attorney Dennis Riordan now claims the defense was defective. For his part, federal prosecutor Andre Espinosa contended that “Hayat’s chosen counsel provided him with independent, zealous, and competent representation,” and that “any purported deficiencies did not legally affect his representation or prejudice him.”
Mojaddidi denies she was to blame for losing the case and she may appear as a defense witness in the January hearing. In that proceeding, family members and other witnesses will reportedly testify that Hamid Hayat was not abroad long enough to have attended a terrorist training camp.
His supporters claim Hayat’s April 2003 trip to Pakistan was to get married and help his mother obtain medical care. According to the Sacramento Bee, “some of that testimony is expected to take place in unusual nighttime court sessions via live video-conferencing with four witnesses in Pakistan.”
Even with sympathetic judge Deborah Barnes, the outcome of the proceedings remains uncertain. It has been established, on the other hand, that while in prison Hamid Hayat has not been able to carry out any acts of terrorism against the United States.
The same is true for California Muslim convert Nicholas Teausant, who aspired to blow up “Zionist” day-care centers and was arrested en route to Syria where he planned to fight with the Islamic State.
In June, 2016, U.S. District Judge John Mendez sentenced Teausant to 12 years in prison followed by 25 years of supervision. With offences related to terrorism, Mendez said, “There is no room for error. The risks are too high.”