A stunned Lynne Stewart was re-sentenced to 10 years in prison Thursday, in part because she crowed that she could handle the initial 28-month sentence ordered by Southern District of New York Judge John Koeltl in 2006 "standing on my head."
Koeltl, instructed by an appeals court to reconsider sentencing enhancements for terrorism, perjury and abuse of her position of trust as a lawyer, did just that as he ordered a longer term for the 70-year-old former defense lawyer for providing material support to a terrorist conspiracy.
But Koeltl also said post-sentencing comments by Stewart in 2006, including a statement in a television interview that she would do "it" again and would not "do anything differently" influenced his decision to give a higher sentence than the one rejected as too light last year by the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.
The comments, Koeltl said Thursday, indicated the original sentence "was not sufficient" to reflect the goals of sentencing guidelines.
The announcement of the 10-year sentence drew gasps of disbelief from Stewart's supporters who had packed the courtroom at 500 Pearl Street.
Stewart was convicted in 2005 of providing material support by passing messages to and from her imprisoned client, Sheik Omar Abdel Rahman, to his followers in the U.S.-designated terror organization the Islamic Group.
She did so principally by broadcasting the sheik's withdrawal of support for a ceasefire on terror attacks by the Islamic Group in Egypt -- a violation of her repeated promises to abide by special administrative measures imposed to keep the sheik walled-off from his supporters.
Stewart's conviction was upheld in November by the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, which also revoked her bail and ordered that she begin her prison term. The circuit directed Koeltl to review the 28-month sentence.
Stewart went into the re-sentencing wearing prison blues, knowing that she had to address the comments she made outside the courthouse after being sentenced in 2006 -- and she did so head-on after entering Koeltl's courtroom and smiling at a standing ovation by family, friends and supporters.
"I have learned that no one, but particularly this 70-year-old woman, can do 28 months standing on their head," Stewart told Koeltl. "I was wrong."
Stewart, who has been treated for breast cancer and is still taking chemotherapy medication, described the desolation of her life at the Metropolitan Correctional Center and told Koeltl, "You gave me the promise of a future" with the 28-month sentence.
She talked about how her personality was "slipping away" and held back sobs and she described her visits with her grandson and other family members.
Stewart then addressed her comment to the television interviewer that she would do "it" again, saying she meant only that she would represent the sheik with compassion.
As to whether she would do anything differently, Stewart conceded she would -- she would have challenged the special administrative measures directly in court "at the first government rumblings of disapproval."
Stewart was accompanied at the re-sentencing by attorney Jill Shellow, who also was co-trial counsel for Stewart. Shellow argued for re-imposition of the original sentence while Assistant U.S. Attorney Andrew Dember sought 15 to 30 years.
Stewart's initial attorney for the appeal, Josh Dratel, withdrew in February. That left Elizabeth Fink, who once shared a law office on lower Broadway with Stewart, to argue the re-sentencing ordered by the 2nd Circuit. But Fink quit in a letter to Koeltl on Sunday, citing the "total breakdown in trust and communication between Stewart and me."
Sitting behind Stewart at the hearing were her lead trial attorney Michael Tigar, and former Rahman lawyer and U.S. Attorney General Ramsey Clark, as well as lawyers for her co-defendants, Ahmed Sattar and interpreter Mohamed Yousry, who were both convicted with her in 2005 and sentenced to prison.
Dember aggressively reviewed the link from the sheik through Stewart to Islamic Group, telling the judge, "Ms. Stewart gave aid to the pro-violence faction of a vicious terrorist organization and to one of its leaders."
"The most compelling factor, the one that should outweigh all the others, is that she provided material support to a conspiracy to commit murder," he said.
The maximum Stewart could have received was 30 years, but Koeltl, as he did in 2006, considered several factors in mitigation, including Stewart's age and health, her career of representing the poor and unpopular and the unlikely chance she would commit another crime.
But Koeltl clearly got the message from the 2nd Circuit and the mitigating factors did not carry the same weight the second time around. Koeltl found that Stewart had committed perjury when she testified at trial that she thought there was a "bubble" within the special administrative measures that shielded her attorney-client relationship and allowed her to issue the press release on the ceasefire and take other actions during prison visits to the sheik with Yousry.
In sentencing her to 10 years, he also recommended that she be placed in the federal facility in Danbury, Conn., to be closer to her family.
Stewart was given a chance to speak again at the end of the hearing.
"I'm somewhat stunned," she said. "We will continue to struggle on and take all available options to do what we can do to change this. I just feel I let a whole lot of my good people down."