Chicago Court Sentences Man to 35 Years for Mumbai Attacks
CHICAGO — A woman shot by convicted terrorist David Coleman Headley implored a federal judge in Chicago Thursday to give Headley what he deserved.
"[Headley] has no right to live," said Linda Ragsdale, grief and anger audible in her voice as she recounted watching a little girl and her father die in a spray of bullets at a Mumbai restaurant in 2008.
"I know the sound of life leaving a 13-year-old child," she said.
Headley, 52, who was convicted for his role in the brutal attack that left more than 160 people dead in Mumbai and other terror plots, was sentenced to 35 years in prison.
He was also convicted of conspiracy to murder and maim people in Denmark. The plot involved a plan to behead employees of a Danish newspaper that published cartoon depictions of the Prophet Muhammad.
The American-born Headley, the son of a Pakistani father and American mother, was motivated by a hatred of India, prosecutors said.
He attended several terrorist training camps, according to the U.S. Attorney's office.
But prosecutors asked for no more than 35 years for Headley, who served as an informant in identifying other terrorists and will continue to do so.
While U.S. District Judge Harry Leinenweber said the "easy" decision would have been to sentence Headley to death or to life in prison, he passed down the lighter sentence at the urging of prosecutors.
Acting U.S. Attorney Gary Shapiro defended the sentence as just and a vital element to efforts to weed out terrorists.
It's been three years since Headley was arrested at O'Hare Airport on his way to Pakistan, where he and a network of co-conspirators bent on wreaking havoc had hatched a plan to attack the Danish newspaper Jyllands-Posten.
In a surprise statement, former U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald told the court Thursday that Headley immediately confessed when taken in to custody.
"Within 30 minutes, he freely admitted to his role in Mumbai," Fitzgerald said.
"Lives were saved," and the plot was foiled, prosecutors said, because Headley was caught and almost immediately fessed up.
While most of the intelligence Headley brought to the bargaining table remains classified, the U.S. Attorney insisted Thursday that it's a fair trade for the relatively light sentence.
To the citizens of India — many of whom wanted to see Headley extradited — Shapiro said, "We've expended years ... investigating a crime that occurred on their soil."
Hopefully, he added, Indian citizen will find some level of "comfort" in the sentencing.
"Despicable doesn't begin to capture the nightmare, the horror," Shapiro said, explaining that the U.S. government needed to send a message to future cooperating witnesses in terror case.
He called the number of cooperating witnesses in terrorism cases "vanishingly small."
"God forbid there is the next Mumbai, the next Copenhagen. ... We need witnesses," he said.