A former New York attorney dying of cancer in a federal prison in Texas has been released on compassionate grounds and allowed to return home. Lynne Stewart, now 74, was known for defending politically radical defendants, including Omar Abdel-Rahman, better known as the the “Blind Sheikh,” a leader of Egypt’s militant Islamist group Al-Gama’a al-Islamiyya, who helped plan the 1993 bombing of the World Trade Center. Stewart was convicted in 2005 of supporting terrorism and conspiring to defraud the government after issuing two press releases on Abdel-Rahman’s behalf. She was sentenced to ten years, which she’s been serving at FMC Carswell, a military base and women’s prison in Fort Worth.
Stewart has had breast cancer since 2009; this summer, as her condition grew more serious, she asked the federal government to set her free to die at home. That request was denied. But on December 31, as the New York Times was first to report, Bureau of Prisons director Charles E. Samuels filed his own motion with Judge John Koeltl to allow Stewart compassionate release, given that her life expectancy is now less than 18 months.
Stewart arrived at LaGuardia airport on January 1; in photos released by Justice for Lynne Stewart, a group advocating for her release, a frail-looking Stewart can be seen holding hands with her husband, Ralph Poynter:
The order from Judge Koeltl doesn’t technically set Stewart free; it simply reduces her sentence to the time she’s already served, and imposes an additional term of five years of supervised release. Koeltl writes that Stewart’s “terminal medical condition and very limited life expectancy constitute extraordinary and compelling reasons that warrant the requested reduction.”
On December 31, Stewart wrote a letter to her supporters, telling them that Poynter was already in Fort Worth for a visit, and expressing delight and disbelief that she’d be allowed to return home with him. She also said that her daughter was planning for her to receive treatment at Sloan Kettering.
Here is that lettter in full:
Well, the impossible takes a little longer !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! We learned this morning that the US Attorney’s office has made the motion for my compassionate release and that the Order was on Judge Koeltl’s desk. Since on the last go-round he stated in Court that he would treat it “favorably”, we are now just waiting expectantly.
The wonderful thing is that Ralph is here in Ft Worth for a visit and will bring me back to NYC with him. We don’t know when but the rules state that the warden has 2 days to let me go after he receives the order so it could be as early as Friday or a few days more. Whatever it is, I can’t stop crying tears of Joy !! I can’t stop thinking of all the marvelous people worldwide who made this happen ..you know because each of you played an integral role. My daughter Z is already lining up Sloan Kettering and we will have to see if there is a probation qualification attached to the Order and how it will affect me. After that Ralph will start making arrangements to rent Yankee Stadium for the Welcome Home… Smile
So If this reaches you before midnight tonight raise a glass of bubbly to the joy of all of us that the old girl is OUT !!