The D.C. Court of Appeals yesterday ordered Hanafi Muslim Abdul Hamid sent back to jail, saying a lower court judge improperly released him in January after he served a three-year prison term for the 1977 takeover of the B'nai B'rith headquarters.
In a 2-to-1 decision, the appellate court ruled that Superior Court Judge Nicholas S. Nunzio released Hamid after his legal authority to do so had expired. Court rules prohibit prisoner releases more than 120 days after a defendant's conviction is upheld, but Hamid was freed six months after that deadline.
Nunzio had effectively reduced Hamid's original 36-to-108-year sentence to "time served," and placed him on five years' probation. Nunzio said he was impressed with Hamid's educational and vocational pursuits while in prison, his cooperation with prison authorities and the fact that his apparent lesser role in the takeovers at B'nai B'rith and two other buildings was minimal compared with other defendants in the case.
The U.S. attorney's office said it plans to ask a judge to issue a warrant for Hamid's arrest. However, Hamid's arrest. However, Hamid is said to have left the Washington area, and his attorney said his whereabouts are unknown.
Yesterday's appellate court ruling orders Nunzio to reinstate Hamid's sentence. It was the latest twist in the violent March 1977 takeover of the B'nai B'rith building, as well as the District Building and the Islamic Center on Massachusetts Avenue NW. After Hamid was released four months ago, some of the more than 120 hostages held in the takeovers protested vehemently. The government appealed Nunzio's ruling to the appeals court.
Hamid was convicted in July 1977 of eight counts of armed kidnaping, conspiracy to commit kidnaping while armed and assault with a dangerous weapon. He was held at a federal prison in Lompoc, Calif. Under Hamid's original sentence, he would not have been eligible for parole until the year 2013.
Hamid was one of seven Hanafis who seized B'nai B'rith, one of the nation's major Jewish service organizations, and took more than 120 hostages. Five other Hanafis took over the District Building and the Islamic Center, seizing several more hostages, including a number of D.C. City Council staff members.
Radio reporter Maurice Williams was shot and killed and Mayor Marion Barry, then a City Council member, was wounded by Hanafi gunfire at the District Building before the Hanafis surrendered to police three days after the takeovers.
In their appeal, government prosecutors claimed that Nunzio failed to act within the required Hamid's sentence. Superior Court rules allow a judge to reduce a sentence within 120 days of a final appellate judgement affirming a conviction, but the rule has been liberally interpreted here so as to require for a sentence reduction with a judge within the 120-day period, but not requiring judges to act within the same time frame.
Judge Stanley S. Harris wrote in an opinion joined by Judge Catherine B. Kelly that by the time Nunzio acted his "power to reduce the sentence-reduction request to Nunzio came 118 days after his conviction was affirmed but Nunzio did not immediately act.
"[The appellate ruling is] very troublesome and worrisome to us," said Public Defender Service attorney W. Gary Kohlman, who represented Nunzio before the appeals court. "It is just not fair for defendants who filed motions in the 115th day or 118th day to then have judges forced to act upon them in the last day or two. You're just not going to get a just result by compressing the system in that fashion."
Nunzio declined to comment.
Judge Julia Cooper Mack, who dissented from the court's ruling, called the majority opinion "unworkable" and said Nunzio had acted within a reasonable amount of time. She noted that prosecutors did not file their response until four months after Hamid's request.
Charles F. Stow III, who represented Hamid, said he waited until the end of the 120-day period to file his request with Nunzio so Hamid could build a prison record that would "prove to the judge that he's worthy of a reduction in sentence.