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Life Sentence Upheld for ‘Underwear Bomber’

(CN) - The man who pleaded guilty to trying to blow up a Detroit-bound passenger plane with a bomb in his underwear was properly sentenced to life in prison, the 6th Circuit ruled.

Nigerian-born Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab joined a jihadist movement in August 2009. In Yemen he trained under Anwar al-Awlaki, the late al-Qaida spiritual leader who had ties to some of the Sept. 11, 2001, hijackers, and agreed to carry out a suicide bombing on a plane over the United States.

On Christmas Day 2009, Abdulmutallab boarded Northwest Airlines Flight 253, a Detroit-bound plane in Amsterdam, with a bomb sewed into his underwear.

With the flight close to landing he went to the bathroom to prepare the bomb. He returned to his seat and told the passenger next to him he did not feel well, pulled a blanket up to his head and pushed a button to detonate the bomb.

Passengers heard what they described as a firework-like pop, and the defective bomb engulfed Abdulmutallab in flames that spread to the plane's carpeting, seats and walls.

Several passengers grabbed Abdulmutallab as they tried to squelch the fire and the pilot took the plane on a deep descent, landing four minutes later.

Abdulmutallab was rushed to the University of Michigan Hospital for emergency treatment.

Federal prosecutors immediately indicted Abdulmutallab on eight counts and he was arraigned on the charges Dec. 26, 2009.

Federal public defenders represented Abdulmutallab until September 2010 when he stated at a pretrial conference he wanted to represent himself.

U.S. District Judge Nancy Edmunds advised Abdulmutallab against representing himself and appointed a standby counsel to consult with him when he insisted on going forward pro se.

Edmunds appointed Anthony Chambers as Abdulmutallab's standby counsel, and Abdulmutallab assured the judge in several pretrial conferences that Chambers was adequately assisting him.

Citing Abdulmutallab's "spontaneously erratic behavior" Chambers filed a motion for a competency hearing under seal.

Edmunds examined Abdulmutallab under oath, however, and found he was competent, as he clearly understood the charges against him.

Chambers also moved to suppress statements that Abdulmutallab made at the hospital before he had been given a Miranda warning and while he was under the influence of a pain killer.

Edmunds denied the motion to suppress, finding Abdulmutallab's statements were voluntary.

The trial started Oct. 11, 2011, with Abdulmutallab stating he did not want to contest the charges.

After a talk with Chambers, he decided to go to trial but the next day he opted to plead guilty and Edmunds sentenced him to life in prison on four of the eight charges.

Abdulmutallab appealed to the 6th Circuit, arguing that Edmund erred by letting him represent himself and plead guilty despite doubts about his competency, and that his sentence amounted to "cruel and unusual punishment."

A three-judge panel of the Cincinnati-based federal appeals court upheld Abdulmutallab's sentence Monday.

Citing the transcripts of Abdulmutallab's discussions with Edmunds, the panel found he was perfectly competent.

"Abdulmutallab directly and articulately addressed the district judge on multiple occasions and demonstrated his ability to make comprehensible legal arguments and his clear understanding of the nature of the proceedings," Judge David McKeague wrote for the panel.

The appellate judges also shot down Abdulmutallab's claim that his sentence is unnecessarily harsh in violation of the Eighth Amendment.

"Abdulmutallab attempted to detonate a bomb on a plane with 289 passengers. He may have been the only person harmed, but that is only because his bomb failed to properly work," McKeague wrote. "These facts, and the fact that Abdulmutallab's sentence was within the guideline range and proportional, inform this Court that his sentence is not 'cruel and unusual' punishment."

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