A high-profile federal terrorism case ended Friday when prosecutors announced they would not retry a Central Valley man whose conviction was overturned in August after he had served 14 years in prison.
Hamid Hayat, who grew up in the rural farming town of Lodi, was arrested in 2005 and accused of attending a terrorism training camp in Pakistan. The case made national headlines after federal law enforcement claimed Hayat was part of an Al Qaeda sleeper cell that was plotting to attack Americans.
In a statement released on Friday afternoon, prosecutors said they had “determined that the passage of time and the interests of justice counsel against resurrecting this 15‑year‑old case.”
A jury convicted Hayat in 2006 of material support for terrorism and lying to the FBI. A judge sentenced him to 24 years in prison. Since then, Hayat has challenged his conviction, claiming his innocence.
“We were always supremely confident the government would have to dismiss,” said Dennis Riordan, Hayat’s appeals lawyer. “We just felt they wanted to postpone that decision until the case of Hamid Hayat faded from public memory.”
Doubts about the case surfaced almost immediately after Hayat’s trial. A juror raised a claim of misconduct . In an interview with PBS Frontline , United States Attorney McGregor Scott acknowledged there was no Al Qaeda sleeper cell in Lodi. The mother of an FBI informant who was a key witness in the case said she doubted her son’s truthfulness .
Hayat’s claims gained momentum in February 2018, when a judge in Sacramento allowed him to present new evidence at a wide-ranging hearing. During the proceeding, Hayat’s lawyers introduced testimony from alibi witnesses from Pakistan who remembered his time in the country.
Hayat had traveled to Pakistan in 2003 with his family, who were part of a community of Pakistani-Americans living in the Central Valley. His family often visited relatives in their ancestral town.
The villagers, who appeared by video link, each said Hayat never left the rural town for more than a few days. They remembered him playing cricket and video games and insisted it would have been impossible for him to disappear to a terrorist camp without the villagers’ knowledge.
After the hearing, U.S. Magistrate Judge Deborah Barnes issued a 116-page report recommending that Hayat’s conviction be vacated. She focused on claims that his trial lawyer was ineffective. Hayat’s trial lawyer, Wazhma Mojaddidi, was an immigration lawyer who’d never tried a federal criminal case. A Muslim advocacy organization had asked her to help Hayat after he went to an interview at the FBI and did not come home. Mojaddidi remained on his case through the trial.
The original trial judge in the case, Judge Garland E. Burrell Jr., agreed with Barnes’ decision. In July, he overturned the conviction. A few weeks later, Hayat was released from prison.
Since then, Hayat and his legal team have waited for a decision about whether prosecutors would retry the case against him.
“It’s really been a struggle for Hamid to try to go forward and put together a new life in the face of the constant stress of a possible new trial,” Riordan said.