UMAR Farouk Abdulmutallab, the 2009 Christmas day alleged underwear bomber of a US jetliner, may be laying the grounds for an eventual appeal of his terrorism case. This is after he had pleaded guilty to the offence.
However, the US-based Nigerian lawyer representing the federal government in the matter, Mr. Kayode Oladele, said Mr. Abdulmutallab’s move was confounding.
Oladele was reacting to Abdulmutallab’s letter to the judge on Monday, complaining about his standby lawyer and asking for a new lawyer in the case, which is proceeding on sentencing next month at a US district court in Detroit.
“I think he (Abdulmutallab) is preparing grounds for an appeal should the Judge deny his request and proceeds to sentence him accordingly,” Oladele said.
It would be recalled that Abdulmutallab had refused the services of a lawyer last September, preferring instead to plead his own case. At that point, the Judge insisted that a back-up lawyer, Anthony Chambers, be provided for him.
But in a three-page handwritten letter delivered last week Monday to US District Court in Detroit from the Milan federal penitentiary where he is being held, Abdulmutallab complained that lawyers appointed to help him defend his case lied, misled and gave him ineffective legal assistance.
Nonetheless, Oladele observed that while it is difficult to know exactly what the alleged terrorist is thinking, “his guilty plea has been accepted by the Court and a date has been fixed for sentencing.”
“There is very little an attorney can do at this stage except he wants to withdraw his guilty plea and opt for a fresh trial,” he said.
Should Abdulmutallab be planning any of those options, the Nigerian lawyer predicted that the US Judge, Nancy Edmunds, is unlikely to grant such requests “based on the history of this case and the way the defendant had scuttled all attempts to provide him with adequate legal representation earlier in the trial.”
And once the judge denies his request, Oladele added, Abdulmutallab may then proceed later on appeal on the very grounds of such a denial.
Abdulmutallab has pleaded guilty and the Court was only left with pronouncing sentence on January 19, which is expected to be a life sentence, according to US lawyers.
Commenting on the development, the Judge-appointed standby lawyer, Anthony Chambers, said Abdulmutallab was misguided.
“We have gone above and beyond for him… He’s having regrets over what I would consider a bad decision” to plead guilty, Chambers said.
In his letter to the Judge, Abdulmutallab said Mr. Chambers and his associates failed to deliver documents he sought, clashed with him, visited him infrequently in prison and filed motions without his consent.
The self-confessed terrorist wrote of his lawyers thus: “Our relationship is strained to say the least… They treat me with contempt, especially away from the eyes of the court.”
Specifically he is asking the Judge for a male, Muslim attorney to help him understand legal issues surrounding his January 19 sentencing and even suggested a Muslim lawyer he met through the Federal Defender Office, Dearborn-based Elsayed Mostafa.
“I find there is more understanding when the person is of the same religion,” Abdulmutallab suggested.
In order to determine his new request, the US Judge has set a hearing for next week’s Monday, January 6.
But Oladele noted that Abdulmutallab knew what he bargained for from the onset when he refused the services of a lawyer, “and he cannot now begin to accuse the standby attorney of ineffective assistance when he had, indeed, waived the right to counsel and opted to defend himself since last year.”
Oladele said Chambers “is an experienced and highly regarded criminal defence attorney, whose performance was very marvelous during the jury selection process.”
“And if you look at some of the pretrial motions he filed in Court, I find it very difficult to see a scintilla of ineffective assistance of counsel there,” he added.