D.C. Superior Court Judge Nicholas S. Nunzio refused yesterday to sign an arrest warrant for the Hanafi Muslim who was ordered sent back to jail by the D.C. Court of Appeals on Thursday.
Nunzio said he lacked the authority to sign the order, despite the vehement objections of a government prosecutor who contended that Abdul Hamid might flee the country if he is not arrested promptly. The judge said that until the appellate court decision is officially transmitted back to him in 21 days, he could take no action.
The saga of Abdul Hamid, whose whereabouts are unknown, has become a battle of legal technicalities.
The D.C. Court of Appeals ruled 2 to 1 on Thursday that when Nunzio released Hamid in January, his legal authority to do so had expired. Under court rules, a judge may reduce a sentence within 120 days of a final appellate judgment affirming a conviction, but Nunzio's action came six months after that.
So when defense attorneys turned the tables and said Nunzio now lacked the legal authority to order Hamid arrested, the judge agreed. He said that the appeals court order "will come down in normal time," and until then, he has no basis for signing the arrest warrant.
Hamid was one of seven Hanafis who seized the headquarters of B'nai B'rith, one of the nation's major Jewish service organizations, in March 1977, and took more than 120 hostages. Five other Hanafis took over the District Building and the Islamic Center, seizing more hostages.
Hamid was originally sentenced to a 36-to-108-year prison term after he 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., and would not have been eligible for parole until the year 2013.
Hamid's attorneys, W. Gary Kholman and Charles F. Stow III, argued at yesterday's hearing that while the Court of Appeals had order Nunzio to "reinstate the original sentence" imposed on Hamid, Nunzio could not do so for 21 days.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Paul L. Knight told Nunzio that if he did sign the arrest order immediately, Hamid "could leave the country. That's why we ask that it be done today. If we wait over the weekend, he could get away."
Knight declined comment on Nunzio's action.