NEW YORK -- Disbarred civil rights attorney Lynne Stewart was released from a federal prison in Texas on Tuesday more than four years into a 10-year sentence after a judge ordered a compassionate release because of her terminal breast cancer.
But Stewart, who was convicted of providing material support to the terrorist Omar Abdel-Rahman by transmitting a message from him to Reuters in 2005, might have been freed long ago if she hadn't continued to speak out after she was first sentenced.
Immediately after receiving a 28-month sentence in October 2006, Stewart stood out in front of a federal courthouse and addressed reporters. One of them asked her if she had any regrets.
"Any regrets?" she responded. "I don't think anybody would say that going to jail for two years is something you look forward to, but as my clients have said to me, 'I can do that standing on my head.'"
Stewart's comment about doing the sentence standing on her head, and another in an interview with Democracy Now in which she said, "I would do it again," inflamed a federal appeals panel. They ordered a district judge to reconsider her sentence, taking into account whether she had perjured herself on the stand in her trial and whether her statements showed that she had any remorse.
Stewart's lawyers appealed that resentencing. Her lawyer, Herald Price Fahringer, told a three-judge panel of the 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals that "One of the most cherished policies of this nation is that everybody should be allowed to speak freely."
"This case puts that principle to a very great test," he said.
The Los Angeles Times editorial board put it a little more bluntly, arguing that that Stewart didn't deserve "8 more years for mouthing off."
But the appeals court approved the resentencing of Stewart that it had ordered in the first place. She would likely have remained in prison until 2018, were it not for the cancer that federal lawyers estimated leave her with less than 18 months to live.