Sentences of Trade Center Bombers Raise Questions of Judge's Methods

UNITED States Federal Judge Kevin Duffy ``threw the book'' at the four convicted bombers of the World Trade Center.

But there may be some legal questions about how Judge Duffy calculated the weight of the book at the sentencing on Tuesday.

Legal experts are not sure if Judge Duffy's sentence of 240 years for each of the defendants will stand up to judicial review. Prior to the sentencing, Duffy said he had difficulty matching the federal guidelines on sentencing with the nature of this crime, in which six people died in the Feb. 26, 1993 bombing. The law did not permit a life sentence for any of the crimes committed in the case, but called for a sentence of ``any term of years.''

So Duffy calculated the sentence by figuring the life expectancy - 91 years - of each of the six people killed in the bombing and subtracting the number of years left in their lives. This came to a cumulative total of 180 years. He then added 30 years each on two further counts.

``My intention is you stay there [in prison] for the rest of your life,'' said Duffy, after sentencing one of the bombers.

But legal experts say that the federal guidelines were designed to avoid such sentencing. ``I have never heard of calculating a sentence that way - it is certainly not in the federal sentencing guidelines,'' says Gerald Uelmen, dean of the Santa Clara University School of Law.

ROBERT Pugsley, a professor at the Southwestern University School of Law in Los Angeles, calls the sentence ``one of the most unusual ways I have ever heard of developing a sentence.'' He says the sentence sounds more like ``something he dreamt up on the spot; it is more related to a tort [civil] verdict.'' Mr. Pugsley says the sentences are appealable if they depart from the guidelines. Those guidelines, he notes, were designed to get rid of ``results-oriented'' sentencing.

The defendants' lawyers for the expected appeal are William Kunstler and Ron Kuby, both known for defending controversial clients. They are also the lawyers for some of the followers of a radical Islamic cleric, Sheikh Omar Abdel-Rahman, who are charged with plotting to blow up other New York landmarks. That trial begins in September.

The life sentences may serve as a deterrent for future terrorists, says Mideast expert Michael Dobkowski, a professor of religious studies at Hobart and William Smith Colleges in Geneva, N.Y. But he warns terrorists usually don't respond to harsh punishment. The sentences, he says, ``are likely to inspire retribution acts around the world.''

Muslims are likely to misunderstand the sentences, says Mideast expert Jim Bill, director of the Center for International Studies at The College of William and Mary in Williamsburg, Va. He believes the sentences will add to the feelings of 1.1 billion Muslims ``of being the afflicted ones.''

The trial ``will be viewed in the context of justice served in New York City, but not in Bosnia,'' Mr. Bill says.

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