ATLANTA – Syed Haris Ahmed has one of Georgia’s top criminal defense lawyers to represent him when he is sentenced for providing material support to terrorists, but the 24-year-old former Georgia Tech student insisted Thursday he wanted to go it alone.
Ahmed, of Dawsonville, asked that U.S. District Judge William S. Duffey Jr. terminate veteran attorney Jack Martin as his legal counsel for his sentencing hearing, at which he faces up to 15 years in prison. Duffey reluctantly agreed, but only to a point.
Duffey ruled that Martin will still be available as a “stand-by” counsel to argue the complex federal sentencing guideline calculations on which the judge will rely heavily in determining Ahmed’s prison sentence.
“I think it is unwise to the extreme even at this stage of the case to represent yourself,” the judge told Ahmed during a Thursday hearing in U.S. District Court.
Ahmed was convicted after a bench trial in June of using the Internet to communicate with supporters of violent Jihad against the United States. Ahmed and a co-defendant, Ehsanul Islam Sadequee, traveled to Washington, D.C. to record “casing” videos of various landmarks, including the Pentagon, and later discussed plots to attack oil refineries and an air base.
Videos shot by Ahmed were found on the computer of a terrorism suspect in London.
While the videos were amateurish and would have been of little tactical use, prosecutors successfully argued they showed Ahmed’s willingness to provide aid to known terrorists.
Ahmed and Sadequee trained in the woods of Dawson County with paintball guns and later traveled to Pakistan, where they discussed joining terrorist training camps.
Sadequee, a Roswell man who met Ahmed in the Atlanta area, was convicted of related charges in August.
Earlier this month Ahmed submitted a handwritten motion seeking to terminate Martin as his counsel, writing that “complex legal issues are not expected to be dealt with” in the sentencing hearing. Ahmed has expressed a desire to put his mother on the witness stand during sentencing and deliver a speech to the judge, much as he did at the conclusion of his trial.
Ahmed told the judge Thursday that the motion was not meant to delay his sentencing, which has been pending for more than four months.
“The pretrial (detention) at the U.S. Penitentiary is really harsh,” Ahmed said. “I was hoping to get moved by the end of the month to my designated place.”
Ahmed has been held in solitary confinement in the Special Housing Unit of the U.S. Penitentiary in Atlanta since his arrest more than three years ago. Martin wrote in a sentencing memorandum filed Wednesday that “the harshness of the defendant’s pretrial incarceration ... is a reason not only to depart downwardly from the (sentencing) guidelines .. but also to impose a non-guideline sentence.”
Martin, writing that his client’s actions were those of a “youthful and immature individual, easily influenced by others,” suggested a prison sentence of 8 to 10 years would be “more than sufficient.”
It remains to be seen whether Ahmed will allow his attorney to argue the finer points of federal sentencing guidelines in court before the judge makes his decision.
Duffey scheduled sentencing for Dec. 2.