A former Park Slope lawyer convicted of helping a jailed terrorist communicate with his followers is coming home after a judge ordered her release from a Texas prison where she has been dying of cancer.
The federal-prison-bureau-requested release of Lynne Stewart, 74, ends four years of imprisonment, much of which Stewart spent suffering from breast cancer. She was known for representing poor, politically active, and sometimes deeply unpopular clients as a defense attorney before her 2007 disbarment and subsequent jailing for communicating on behalf of blind cleric Sheik Omar Abdel-Rahman, convicted of plotting to blow up the New York landmarks including the United Nations and the Lincoln and Holland tunnels. Her family cheered the decision to allow her to return home, but lamented the circumstances.
“We were pretty surprised — it is very bittersweet,” said Stewart’s son and lawyer Geoffrey Stewart. “Freedom is the most important thing, and we still feel like she should have never been put through this in the first place.”
Stewart will arrive home on Jan. 1, according to the Justice for Lynne Stewart support website. The release ruling cuts short a 10-year sentence and follows a global outpouring of support for the firebrand advocate and an order from the Bureau of Prisons recommending her freeing. Backers argued that her conviction threatened the constitutional right to counsel, but multiple courts disagreed, finding that her transmission of messages from Rahman, nicknamed “the blind sheik,” to his supporters in Egypt’s “Islamic Group” was conspiracy to provide material support to terrorism. Judges overturned and quadrupled an initial 28-month sentence following a press conference where Stewart said she could do that time “standing on [her] head.”
U.S. District Judge John Koeltl granted the compassionate release appeal after denying the same bid in April because the federal Bureau of Prisons had not approved it. The prison bureau and the justice department recommended Stewart be freed on New Year’s Eve morning and the Koeltl signed off on Stewart’s release in the afternoon. In his decision, the judge pointed out that Stewart is near death and unlikely to commit further crimes.
The freed advocate will live in her son’s Flatbush home because a granddaughter lives in the Park Slope pad the agitator owns, a supporter said. She will be excited to check out Prospect Park’s new ice-skating rinks and to listen to jazz with her husband, her son said.
“I know she has a lot of people that she wants to thank, have private meetings with, and catch up with,” he said. “She will be amazed at all the changes in Brooklyn.”