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U.S. judge releases dying lawyer convicted of aiding terrorism

A police officer puts his arm around disbarred lawyer Lynne Stewart (C) as she arrives at federal court to begin her prison sentence after b
A police officer puts his arm around disbarred lawyer Lynne Stewart (C) as she arrives at federal court to begin her prison sentence after b

By Jonathan Stempel

NEW YORK (Reuters) - A federal judge on Tuesday granted Lynne Stewart, a former defense lawyer convicted of aiding terrorism, a "compassionate" release from prison because she is dying of cancer.

Stewart, 74, has been serving a 10-year sentence over her 2005 conviction for helping a client, blind Egyptian cleric Sheikh Omar Abdel-Rahman, smuggle messages from prison to Egypt's Islamic Group, which the U.S. government had listed as a terrorist organization.

Earlier this year, Stewart asked U.S. District Judge John Koeltl in Manhattan for early release under a Federal Bureau of Prisons program for terminally ill inmates.

Koeltl, who in August had denied the request, noting that the Bureau of Prisons had not supported it, on Tuesday granted the request, following a recommendation for release from the Bureau of Prisons and the U.S. attorney in Manhattan. Koeltl reduced Stewart's sentence to the time she has already served and ordered Stewart released as soon as her medical condition permits, according to a court filing.

The Bureau of Prisons and Preet Bharara, the U.S. attorney in Manhattan, had recommended that Stewart be released from the Federal Medical Center Carswell in Fort Worth, Texas, and to live in Brooklyn, New York, with her son, a lawyer.

The government said Stewart has Stage IV breast cancer that has metastasized to the lung and bone and is expected to live 18 months or less.

It said her terminal medical condition and limited life expectancy were "extraordinary and compelling reasons" to reduce the sentence and that Stewart posed a "relatively limited" risk of recidivism and danger to the community.

Prior to being disbarred, Stewart had been known for representing controversial defendants, including one-time crime underboss Salvatore "Sammy the Bull" Gravano.

"My client and I are overjoyed that she will be able to spend her remaining days with her family," Jill Shellow, a lawyer for Stewart, said in a phone interview. "It restores my faith in the Department of Justice to do the right thing."

Koeltl imposed the 10-year sentence in 2010 after a federal appeals court found Stewart's original 28-month term too short.

Abdel-Rahman was convicted in 1995 of conspiring to attack the United Nations and other New York City landmarks, following the 1993 truck bombing at the World Trade Center.

The case is USA v. Sattar et al, U.S. District Court, Southern District of New York, No. 1:02-cr-00395.

(Reporting by Jonathan Stempel in New York; additional reporting by Mica Rosenberg; editing by Richard Chang and Leslie Adler)

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