An American drug dealer who had faced life in prison was sentenced instead to 35 years Thursday for helping plan the deadly 2008 attacks on Mumbai, India — a punishment prosecutors said reflected his broad cooperation with U.S. investigators but which a victim’s family member called “an appalling dishonor.”
It was David Coleman Headley’s meticulous scouting missions that facilitated the assault by 10 gunmen from a Pakistani-based militant group on multiple targets in Mumbai, including the Chabad house and the landmark Taj Mahal Hotel. Rabbi Gabi Holtzberg and his wife, Rivka, Rabbi Leibush Teitelbaum, Rabbi Benzion Kruman, Yocheved Orpaz and Norma Schwartzenblat-Rabinovitz were murdered in the terrorist attack on the Chabad House there, Hy”d.
Headley faced life in prison, and at 52 years old, even a 35-year term could mean he’ll never walk free. But federal prosecutors had asked for a more lenient 30 to 35 years, citing his extraordinary cooperation, including serving as the government’s star witness at the 2011 trial of a Chicago businessman convicted in a failed attack on a Danish newspaper.
Former U.S. attorney Patrick Fitzgerald spoke in court, calling Headley’s cooperation within 30 minutes of his 2009 arrest “unusual.”
However, some victims who sustained injuries in the attacks called the 35 years unjust for the severity of the violence.
U.S. District Judge Harry Leinenweber said he considered the cooperation in imposing his sentence even though “the damage that was done was unfathomable.” He cited a letter from Headley vowing that he was a changed man, but Leinenweber said he didn’t buy it.
“I don’t have any faith in Mr. Headley when he says he’s a changed person and believes in the American way of life,” he said.
Headley, who did not address the court, showed no emotion when the sentence was announced.
Prosecutors say Headley, who was born in the U.S. to a Pakistani father and an American mother, was motivated in part by his hatred of India going back to his childhood. He changed his birth name from Daood Gilani in 2006 so he could travel to and from India more easily to do reconnaissance without raising suspicions.
He never pulled a trigger in the attack, but his contribution to the Pakistani-based terrorist group Lashkar-e-Taiba made the assault more deadly. He conducted meticulous scouting missions, videotaping and mapping targets, so the attackers, who had never been to Mumbai, adeptly found their way around.