Gov’t: Dying Lawyer Who Helped ‘Blind Sheik’ Can’t Be Freed

NEW YORK (AP) -

A federal judge does not have authority to release an ailing disbarred lawyer serving a 10-year prison sentence for helping an imprisoned blind Egyptian sheik pass on a fatwa to his followers, the government argued in a brief Tuesday.

Prosecutors said in court papers that a request by Lynne Stewart’s lawyers for her to be released so she can better fight terminal cancer should be rejected. They wrote that U.S. District Judge John G. Koeltl doesn’t have the authority to reconsider or modify a prison term previously imposed unless the federal Bureau of Prisons requests it.

Defense lawyers last week asked the judge to free the 73-year-old Stewart after the director of the Bureau of Prisons rejected a compassionate-release request in June, saying she had more than 18 months to live. Her lawyers, though, say her condition is “rapidly deteriorating” and she will soon succumb to cancer.

Prosecutors said that Stewart’s actions “came perilously close to unleashing a violent terrorist attack.” Stewart relayed a message from her client, Omar Abdel-Rahman, to the media, which caused his followers in Egypt to riot. The sheik is serving a life sentence for conspiracies to blow up New York landmarks and assassinate then-Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak. A hearing is scheduled for Thursday.