By Larry Neumeister
NEW YORK — A federal prison guard maimed when he was stabbed in the eye by a former Osama bin Laden aide returned to court Tuesday hoping to see his attacker at appeals arguments that could lead to a new sentencing hearing for the man, who's serving life in prison.
"I want to see him one more time," the guard, Louis Pepe, said outside court. "He should be here."
Pepe, wearing a U.S. Bureau of Prisons shirt, arrived in a wheelchair at the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, where two judges considered whether Mamdouh Mahmud Salim should be ordered to return to federal court in Manhattan for a third sentencing. Salim is housed at the U.S. Penitentiary in Florence, Colorado, and appeared at an August 2010 resentencing hearing via video because he feared he would be mistreated if he were taken to court, Salim's attorney Bruce Bryan said.
A judge originally sentenced Salim in 2004 to 32 years in prison, but a resentencing was ordered by the appeals court, which said a terrorism enhancement was necessary.
Salim sprayed Pepe with hot sauce to blind him before stabbing him in the eye with a sharpened comb in 2000 as he awaited trial in the case of bombings at two U.S. embassies in Africa. The stabbing left Pepe brain-damaged and blind in one eye. The August 1998 bombings killed 224 people, including 12 Americans.
Salim was not taken to the appeals arguments, where Bryan found himself on the same side of the argument as Pepe.
Pepe, 54, was disappointed when Salim did not appear in court in person and wants another resentencing so he can confront him again.
Government attorney Andrew Goldstein said a resentencing was unnecessary because it was a harmless error that Salim was not taken to the hearing. He said it was an unusual situation that would not result in setting new legal standards regarding when prisoners must appear at sentencings.
The judges, though, were not so sure.
"There has to be some rather extraordinary showing before you forgive an erroneous failure to have a defendant present," Judge Gerard Lynch said.
"There seems to be a bit of a conundrum here," Judge John M. Walker Jr. said.
He said it was a "troublesome aspect" of the case that there did not appear to be sufficient communication between the sentencing judge and Salim before his appearance in court was excused.
Bryan, the defense attorney, argued that his client did not have an opportunity to voluntarily waive his appearance properly because the judge never questioned him on the subject.
Pepe now lives with his mother at a beachfront property in Brooklyn, where he undergoes daily physical therapy to improve his agility. In front of the courthouse after the hearing, he rose from his wheelchair to demonstrate that he can now stand.
His sister, Eileen Trotta, said he had improved considerably since the government began providing funds for services to improve his condition. She said he exercises two hours a day and no longer needs medication. But she said he wants one more encounter with Salim.
"Louis felt he didn't have closure at the sentencing," she said, "because he (Salim) wasn't there."
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Copyright 2012 Associated Press