Volume 19 | Issue 23 | October 20- 26, 2006

Downtown Express photo by Jefferson Siegel

Lynne Stewart at a rally in her support before her sentencing on Monday.

Stewart gets 28 months, not years, to her delight

By Lori Haught

Lynne Stewart, 67, radical Lower East Side attorney, was sentenced to 28 months in prison on Mon. Oct. 16, nearly 20 months after her conviction on charges of aiding terrorism.

She entered the courts leaving behind her rally of supporters a little after 9 a.m. The crowd of more than 100 supporters — along with a police detail — escorted Stewart in a short procession from Foley Square to the courthouse.

Signs with slogans such as “Lynne Stewart — innocent, U.S. Government — guilty as Hell” and “Stop the Witchhunt — U.S.A. Patriot Act = American Gestapo” floated above the crowd. Chants, including “Set Lynne Free” and “Win Lynne, Win” rang out as they crossed Centre St. Some supporters even started singing “When Lynne Goes Marching in” to the tune of “When the Saints Go Marching in” for their walk to the courthouse.

“We must stand now, or there might not be any ground left to stand on,” Stewart told her supporters. “I’m going to go on fighting forever.”

Stewart said she came prepared to go to jail, but that she was not resigned. She had a bag containing her pills, a pair of “fuzzy, warm pants” and a couple of books.

Her husband, Ralph Poynter, stood by her side the entire time. Only Stewart’s counsel and immediate family were allowed in the small courtroom, as Stewart had specifically requested.

In February of last year Stewart was convicted of aiding a terrorist conspiracy by helping deliver a message from her client, Sheik Omar Abdel Rahman, leader of Al-Gama’a al-Islamiyya, an Egyptian Islamic group classified as a terrorist organization by the U.S. She had signed an agreement not to help the sheik communicate from prison, and his message denounced a ceasefire his group was considering.

Sentencing had been delayed after Stewart was diagnosed with breast cancer. She told the Downtown Express at a support rally on Sept. 26 that she now has a clean bill of health.

The sentencing proceeding began at 10 a.m. and the sentence was delivered shortly after noon.

Many of the supporters remained outside the courthouse waiting for the decision. Police barriers kept the demonstrators from blocking the sidewalk, while officers kept an eye on the crowd.

Ron Kuby, another radical New York City attorney and a friend of Stewart’s for more than 25 years, said that U.S. District Court Judge John G. Koetl, the judge who presided over both Stewart’s trial and sentencing, is interested in details.

Although the supporters were not allowed in the courtroom, several managed to make it to the hall outside before being asked to leave. One supporter, who didn’t give his name, said people packed the hall.

“The halls rang when Lynne came in,” he said. Supporters began singing “Glory, Glory Hallelujah” and chanting “Lynne Stewart must go free.” He also said that Poynter greeted many of the people in the crowd with a hug.

He said everyone cleared the hall cooperatively when asked to leave; most came to wait outside the courthouse for the decision.

The sentence of less than two and a half years is far less than what was originally predicted, even by the lawyers who support Stewart. Prosecutors asked for a 30-year sentence.

“I would be very surprised if it’s anything less then double digits,” Kuby opined at around 10:30 a.m. “But I’ve been wrong about this stuff before. I hope I am.”

Kuby’s hopes were answered along with those of many other supporters who, although they had not wanted Stewart to get any jail time, were relieved to find out it was such a short jail term.

Stewart herself is said to have smiled when Judge Koetl handed down the sentence.

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