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January 26, 2013

Mumbai plotter sentenced to 35 years

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 cheek 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.”

The Indian government and others who were victimized by the attack that has been called India’s 9/11 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.

Indian External Affairs Minister Salman Khurshid said Friday that Headley deserved a longer sentence and that India will continue to press for his extradition to face trial there for his role in the attack.

“He lost his right to live life as a free man. He doesn’t deserve to be let out. He gave up that right when he played a role in the attack,” said Kia Scherr, whose husband Alan Scherr and 13-year-old daughter, Naomi, were at the same table as Ragsdale and died.

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