As David Headley appeared before the court for his sentence hearing, American victims of the Mumbai terror attack said it would be an outrage if he was let off with just a 35 year imprisonment for his involvement in the massacre of 2008.
Speaking on behalf of the victims, with
Headley present inside the court room, a teary-eyed Linda Ragsdale, who was shot in the back by a gunman while dining at the Oberoi Trident, told a federal court in Chicago that Headley must be made to bear the consequences of what he did.
"I feel that the magnitude of the killing that took place (in Mumbai), David Headley has no right to live. He must bear the consequences of (what he did?)... this would be morale outrage if David Headley got only 35 years," said Ragsdale.
Ragsdale, who is a children's book author and illustrator, witnessed several people being killed, including the father daughter duo of Alan and Naomi Scher who were travelling with her.
Weeping in the court room as she described the events of the day, Ragsdale told Headley: "I do not know you. I know you only from the testimony you gave in this courtroom. I have no understanding of how you choose this path. Your path is not my concern and justice is not my concern". She recalled wondering how a man as young as her son could kill innocent people.
Earlier, Ragsdale read out a statement from Andreina Varagona, another witness to the attack.
In this courtroom sketch, Linda Ragsdale, a Tennessee children's author who was shot during the 2008 Mumbai attacks, reads an impact statement in the court. AP
"Two gunmen came running into the packed restaurant, bullets flying. I remember hearing screams and saw all of us sitting there, frozen with fear. 'Everyone get under the table now', I shouted on instinct," read Varagona's testimony.
Varagona was dining with the Scherrs, describing what happened on that fateful day.
"I had no idea who the gunmen were or why we under attack. All six of us dived down but Naomi was so scared – she just kept screaming and screaming. Her dad, Alan, was desperately trying to calm her. Shots were ringing out as the gunmen peppered the restaurant with fire. 'We have to play dead', I said".
"But as I reached up to grab Alan's neck, I suddenly felt the warm spray of blood on my face and in my hair... Naomi's screams had stopped too and I saw her lying lifeless besides him. They'd both been shot dead," Ragsdale said quoting Varagona.
'Remorseful' Headley claimed he is changed
Ragsdale also read a text message from Kia Scherr to the judge, in which Scherr implored the court not to give Headley less than life in prison and asserting that anything less "would be an appalling dishonor."
Ragsdale painted a detailed picture of the gory scene as she huddled under the table with Scherr's husband Alan and her daughter, Naomi. After the initial gunfire, they were all still alive, and she said she would have thrown her body across the teen to shield her.
"That moment still haunts me," she said, crying, as she looked straight at Headley. She said she passed out from her injuries under the table and "awoke to hear Naomi take her last breath."
'I know the sound of life leaving a 13-year-old child'
Headley shifted uncomfortably in a gray tracksuit and kept his eyes fixed on the courtroom floor as he listened to Ragsdale 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 near Headley during the sentencing hearing.
Synchronicity Foundation member Kia Scherr, whose husband Alan and 13-year-old daughter Naomi were gunned during the 2008 terrorist attack in Mumbai. AP files
"I know the sweet sickening smell of gunfire and blood," said Ragsdale, 53, 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 ... I know the sound of life leaving a 13-year-old child. These are things I never needed to know, never needed to experience," she was quoted as saying.
She did not comment after the judge imposed the sentence, but others victimized by the attack said they were disturbed and upset Headley did not get the maximum life sentence he faced.
With credit for good behavior, he could walk out of prison before he turns 80.
35 yrs in jail for David Headley, govt says its not enough
"Headley has lost his right to live as a free man," Ragsdale told the district judge on Thursday.
Ragsdale, a mother of three, had traveled to Mumbai with members from the Synchronicity Foundation, a Virginia-based meditation group.
Six members of the group, including Alan and Naomi, were having dinner at the restaurant at the hotel where they were staying.
'Headley sentence dishonours 26/11 victims'
Kia Scherr, an American whose husband and teenage daughter were among 166 people killed in the Mumbai attacks, has said the 35-year sentence for David Headley "dishonours" the victims, asserting that the LeT terrorist "lost his right" to live as a free man when he helped plan the strikes.
Scherr said she is unhappy with the sentence handed down to Headley by the Chicago court adding that he deserved harsher punishment for his "deplorable act."
Smoke billows from the Taj Mahal Hotel in Mumbai during the 60-hour terror sieze that killed more than 160 people. AP files
"I vehemently disagree with the sentence. It dishonors those who were killed and those who survived, whose lives changed forever," Scherr told PTI in an e-mail.
Headley, who had confessed to undertaking several scouting missions in Mumbai for his handlers in Pakistan, had passed on photos and videos of targets, including the Taj and Oberoi hotels which were attacked by 10 LeT terrorists.
Scherr lost her husband Alan and daughter Naomi in the attack on the Oberoi Hotel. Her husband was shot in the back of the head and died instantly while her 13-year-old daughter was shot multiple times and bled to death.
"I don't understand why there isn't a greater value for the lives of the innocent. David Headley lost his right to live as a free man when he helped plan those attacks. Such actions should have greater consequences. There is no justification or excuse for this deplorable act," Scherr said.
After the attack, Scherr helped start an organisation called the One Life Alliance, which seeks to work against terrorism by promoting understanding and respect for the sacredness of life.
She wrote in an email on Thursday from Mumbai that she has thrown herself into doing charity work in the city. "This is how I am surviving this event, which erased life as I knew it," she said.
Headley was on Thursday sentenced to 35 years in jail by a US court for his 'unquestionable' role in the massacre of 166 people in the 2008 Mumbai attacks.
How David Headley climbed the LeT ladder
Giving his order, US district judge Harry D Leinenweber said "He commits crime, cooperates and then gets rewarded for the cooperation.
"That's what you deserve," the judge told Headley, 52, who had changed his given name of Daood Gilani to scout targets in Mumbai without arousing suspicion.
(With inputs from IANS and PTI)
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