CHICAGO (AP) — A bid for freedom by a convicted Somali pirate depicted in a Hollywood movie has been scuttled by a federal appellate court in Chicago, which rejected his argument that he was just 16 during the 2009 hijacking of a U.S.-flagged merchant ship and so should not have been prosecuted as an adult.
Abduwali Abdukhadir Muse was the lone survivor of four pirates who hijacked the Maersk Alabama, leading to a four-day standoff recounted in the 2013 movie "Captain Phillips" starring Tom Hanks. The siege ended when Navy snipers on the USS Bainbridge killed Muse's accomplices as they held Capt. Richard Phillips on a lifeboat.
As an adult, Muse faced stiffer potential punishments. In sentencing him to nearly 34 years prison in 2011, a judge said he and his fellow pirates terrorized the crew, even playing Russian roulette with them. She cited Phillips as saying such modern-day pirates, "are not Johnny Depps" — a reference to the "Pirates of the Caribbean" movie franchise.
Another lower court judge determined at a 2009 hearing that Muse was at least 18 and properly tried as an adult. The judge said he didn't believe Muse's father who testified via telephone from Somalia that his son was 16, noting that the parent of 12 knew the precise birth date of just one of his children — Muse.
The 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruling this week says under a 2010 plea deal with prosecutors Muse explicitly forfeited his right to ever take back his guilty plea to hijacking, kidnapping and hostage-taking charges based on disputes over his age.
But in filings last year from his federal prison in Terre Haute, Indiana, Muse said confusion about birth dates in East African nation was common, in a part because birth certificates are rare. And he said he was disoriented after his arrest when he told investigators he was between 18 and 19.
"I did not speak nor understand even a word of English and was terrified," he said. During the 2009 hearing regarding his age, he said an interpreter spoke his dialect of Somali badly. He added, "I was so scared that anything occurring was a big blur."
Muse said he wanted to fight the charges but agreed to plead guilty because his lawyers "kept advising me that I would die in an American prison if I proceeded to trial."