An Iraqi refugee and former Bowling Green resident serving a life sentence for terror-related offenses failed to prove his attorney was ineffective in representing him, and his motion to have his life sentence vacated should be dismissed, a federal judge has recommended.
Mohanad Shareef Hammadi, 29, has been incarcerated since 2011 on allegations that he attempted to provide weapons and money to terrorists in Iraq while he lived in Bowling Green.
Hammadi pleaded guilty the following year in U.S. District Court to all charges in a 12-count indictment, including a count of conspiring to export surface-to-air missile launcher systems, which netted him the life sentence.
A co-defendant, Waad Alwan, pleaded guilty to similar counts and received a 40-year sentence.
Hammadi appealed for a reduction to his sentence, but the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 6th Circuit denied his motion.
In 2015, Hammadi moved for his sentence to be vacated on the grounds that he had ineffective assistance of counsel from his court-appointed attorney, James Earhart.
At an evidentiary hearing held in June in Louisville, Hammadi contended that he was advised by Earhart that he would not receive a life sentence if he pleaded guilty, and also claimed that he did not know a life sentence was a possible result of his plea, or else he would not have pleaded guilty.
Hammadi also claimed that Earhart was ineffective for failing to advise him to share information with the government before entering a plea.
The U.S. government responded that Earhart's decision not to have Hammadi proffer with the government was a strategic move to ensure that federal prosecutors did not have evidence they could use to hamper Hammadi's ability to testify on his own behalf should the case have gone to trial.
U.S. Magistrate Judge Brent Brennenstuhl wrote in a 37-page opinion on Thursday that Hammadi failed to establish that Earhart was ineffective.
Relying on Earhart's testimony from the evidentiary hearing, Brennenstuhl found that Hammadi offered no evidence that Earhart advised his client that he would not receive a life sentence if he pleaded guilty.
Hammadi relied in part on a note from Earhart's file that said "proffer, recommend 25" as an indicator that the U.S. offered Hammadi a deal at what would have been the minimum sentence.
Earhart testified that he did not remember making the note, but that he probably wrote it to reflect what deal he hoped to get for Hammadi. Earhart also testified that he never received a specific number of years as punishment for Hammadi during negotiations with federal prosecutors.
Brennenstuhl gave more credibility to Earhart's testimony than to Hammadi's.
"Earhart's testimony is consistent with that of an experienced defense attorney," Brennenstuhl wrote, adding that he "finds it unbelievable that Earhart would have advised Hammadi that he was certain not to receive a life sentence."
According to court records, Earhart testified that he did not advise Hammadi to proffer with the government before entering a plea because he did not believe his client had useful information, and the government would have used the information Hammadi provided without offering anything in return.
Brennenstuhl wrote that Earhart's decision was grounded in strategy that was based on extensive legal experience and "a realistic view of how the process generally works."
"It strains credulity to imagine a situation where Hammadi would have proceeded to trial and been found not guilty," Brennenstuhl wrote. "Hammadi makes no claims of actual innocence, nor could he do so in good faith given the extensive audio and video evidence. The question, then, is whether it is reasonably probable that Hammadi's sentence would have been less if he was either convicted or had proffered with the United States before entering his plea. Neither is a realistic possibility."
Hammadi also argued that Earhart was ineffective for failing to prepare for trial, including a failure to interview witnesses and investigate evidence.
In court documents, Hammadi claimed that Earhart should have interviewed Alwan in order to gather evidence about Hammadi's financial situation as part of his defense, and that Earhart should have called FBI agents who interviewed Hammadi as witnesses at the sentencing hearing.
Federal prosecutors responded that testimony about Alwan's knowledge of Hammadi's terrorist activity in Iraq would have blunted any potential benefit of having him testify, and that the FBI agents would have testified that Hammadi was uncooperative and made excuses for his conduct.
"Given this evidence, Earhart was wise not to call to the stand agents who would serve no other purpose than to reinforce the United States' position," Brennenstuhl wrote. "Earhart's actions were not only reasonable, but strategic, and his performance was therefore not deficient."
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