An appeals court reinstated a charge of conspiracy to "murder, kidnap, and maim" against accused terrorist supporter Jose Padilla, the most serious count that he will face at a trial scheduled to begin in April.
The Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit in Atlanta yesterday reversed a lower court ruling that threw out the charge, which carries a possible sentence of up to life in prison. District Judge Marcia Cooke in Miami had dismissed the count, ruling it duplicated other charges.
Mr. Padilla, 36, a former Chicago gang member and alleged Al Qaeda operative, is charged with being part of a terror cell that provided money, aid, and recruits to Islamic extremists. Those charges carry a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison. His case is set for trial April 16 in Miami federal court.
"We are gratified by the 11th Circuit's swift decision and look forward to presenting the evidence at trial," said Alex Acosta, U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of Florida in Miami, in a statement.
A three-judge panel of the Court of Appeals heard arguments January 10 over Judge Cooke's decision that the charges violated Mr. Padilla's right against being charged twice for the same offense. Federal prosecutors argued the charge was dropped in error, saying Judge Cooke used flawed legal analysis. Mr. Padilla has 21 days to seek a rehearing before the appeals court, according to the Justice Department.
An America citizen, Mr. Padilla was arrested in Chicago in 2002. The government initially accused him of plotting to detonate in America a "dirty bomb," a conventional explosive device that includes radioactive material for dispersal in the blast. America later said Al Qaeda trained him to blow up American apartment buildings. In November 2005, Mr. Padilla was indicted on charges of conspiring to provide material support to terrorists.
Prison officials are scheduled to report by February 9 on a mental competency exam of Mr. Padilla to determine whether he is fit to stand trial.
Mr. Padilla's lawyers said in court papers that he suffered mental damage because of abuse that they claim was inflicted by American authorities during the three years and five months he was held in a Navy prison in South Carolina.