CHICAGO – Minutes before an American was sentenced to 35 years in prison for helping plan a deadly attack on Mumbai, India, one of his victims tearfully pleaded for a harsh punishment despite the terrorist plotter’s widespread cooperation with U.S. investigators following his arrest.
David Coleman Headley, 52, shifted uncomfortably in a gray tracksuit and kept his eyes fixed on the Chicago courtroom floor Thursday as he listened to the American children’s author describe the violent chaos during her 2008 vacation to India.
Bullets flew past her check and panicked diners dived under tables as gunmen burst into a hotel restaurant then walked around executing people one by one, recalled Linda Ragsdale, at times almost shouting as she stood just a few feet from Headley during the sentencing hearing. More than 160 people died in the attack, including children.
I know the sweet sickening smell of gunfire and blood, said Ragsdale, 53, of Nashville, Tenn., who was shot through the back – the bullet passing along her spine and then out her thigh. I know what a bullet can do to every part of the human body. ... These are things I never needed to know, never needed to experience.
Others victimized by the attack that has been called India’s 9/11 said they were disturbed and upset that Headley did not get the maximum life sentence he faced.
It was prosecutors who pressed for leniency, saying they wanted Headley to get no more than 35 years as credit for his almost immediate cooperation after his 2009 arrest and providing intelligence about terror networks, including the Pakistani-based group that mounted the attack.
Rewarding Headley with the hope of at least a few years of freedom, they said, would encourage future suspects in such cases to spill secrets.
Prosecutors say Headley, who was born in the U.S. to a Pakistani father and American mother, was motivated in part by his hatred of India going back to his childhood.
His meticulous scouting missions helped make the assault by 10 gunmen from a Pakistani-based militant group on multiple targets in Mumbai so deadly. TV cameras captured much of the three-day rampage that included multiple targets, including the landmark Taj Mahal Hotel.