NY judge set to reconsider ailing ex-lawyer's case

AP News
Posted: Aug 08, 2013 4:18 PM

NEW YORK (AP) — A New York judge has no immediate ruling on whether a former lawyer serving a 10-year sentence in a terrorism case can be freed early because she is dying of cancer.

Judge John Koeltl (KOHT'-uhl) in Manhattan listened to arguments without ruling Thursday. But he expressed doubt that the law gives him latitude to order 73-year-old Lynne Stewart freed.

Stewart was convicted of letting communications from an Egyptian sheik serving a life sentence reach his followers. She has been imprisoned since 2009.

Stewart applied Wednesday for compassionate release for a second time. Federal officials rejected her first request in June in part on grounds she had more than 18 months to live. Her lawyers say doctors have revised that estimate to less than 18 months.

THIS IS A BREAKING NEWS UPDATE. Check back soon for further information. AP's earlier story is below.

A judge is poised to hear arguments before deciding whether a former civil rights lawyer convicted in a terrorism case can be released early to cope with terminal cancer.

U.S. District Judge John G. Koeltl will hear lawyers Thursday discuss the fate of Lynne Stewart, a 73-year-old longtime New York City resident who has been imprisoned since 2009. Stewart is serving a 10-year prison term after she was convicted of letting a blind Egyptian sheik communicate with followers while he was serving life in a plot to blow up five New York City landmarks and assassinate then-Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak.

Stewart, who was sentenced by Koeltl, said in a message posted on her website days ago that her oncologist has said she has only 18 months to live.

Her lawyers have told the judge that her condition "is rapidly deteriorating" and have asked Koeltl to release her early so she can die at home in Brooklyn. The government has said in court papers that the judge lacks authority to release her without a request from the federal Bureau of Prisons.

Prosecutors wrote that "Stewart and her co-defendants' actions came perilously close to unleashing a violent terrorist attack," although there was no evidence anyone was injured as a result of a message Stewart relayed to reporters from Sheik Omar Abdel-Rahman.

In June, the Bureau of Prisons rejected her request for compassionate release, in part noting that her life expectancy was more than the 18 months required to consider early release.

Stewart has written to the judge, saying she doesn't want to die in "a strange and loveless place" and wants to go home. She currently resides at the Federal Medical Center, Carswell, in Fort Worth, Texas, and was not expected to be in court Thursday.

In a note posted Friday to a website dedicated to winning her release, Stewart told supporters that she hoped the judge will "overturn the barbaric decision by the Bureau of Prisons and allow me to leave this empty loveless prison and go home to people and places familiar and beloved."