NORFOLK, Virginia — A federal judge Wednesday sentenced a Somali pirate to 41-1/2 years in prison after rejecting a prosecutor's call for a mandatory life term.
Mohamed Ali Said, 30, was convicted along with five other Somali men of piracy and related charges in the April 2010 attack on the dock landing ship Ashland. Each faced a mandatory life prison term for the piracy convictions.
Attorneys for Said and the five others argued that mandatory life violates the Constitution's ban on cruel and unusual punishment. The judge agreed.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Ben Hatch argued that life in prison was appropriate, calling the attack harsh and heinous and adding that Said has shown no remorse or acceptance of responsibility.
"Obviously, the court has a different view of matters," U.S. District Judge Raymond A. Jackson responded.
Said had nothing to say, according to his attorney. Said had previously claimed he was not a pirate and was working as a smuggler when the skiff approached the Ashland off the Somali coast.
Prosecutors said the Somalis mistook the Ashland for a commercial vessel when they opened fire on it in the predawn darkness, trying to take its crew hostage in exchange for ransom. One of the Somalis admitted that was their plan.
No sailors were injured, but a seventh Somali was killed when the Ashland returned fire with its 25mm cannon, blowing up the skiff.
"At the end of the day, this was an attempt," said Said's attorney Keith Kimball, an assistant federal public defender.
Kimball and other defense attorneys argued that life in prison was unconstitutional given that other pirates who actually committed murder during their attacks - including four Americans shot and killed aboard the yacht Quest - also received life in prison.
"The court is aware of the gruesome nature of piracy," Jackson said. "The court finds a difference in the conduct."
The government will likely appeal.
Said also faced enhanced penalties because he was convicted of a weapons charge involving a similar attack on the Chatham, a British naval vessel, two months before the Ashland attack.
Also Wednesday, Abdi Razaq Abshir Osman, a second Somali pirate in the Ashland case, was sentenced to 30 years in prison. And a third, Mohamed Farah, was sentenced to 32 years in prison. Neither were involved in the Chatham attack. The remaining two will be sentenced today.
Jackson also ordered that the Somalis turn themselves over to immigration authorities for deportation when they get released from prison.
Tim McGlone, 757-446-2343, firstname.lastname@example.org