KARACHI, Pakistan — A Pakistani court Thursday overturned the murder conviction of a British Pakistani man found guilty of the 2002 kidnapping and murder of Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl.
Instead, the court found Ahmed Omar Saeed Sheikh guilty of the lesser charge of kidnapping and sentenced him to seven years in prison.
One of his lawyers, Khwaja Naveed, said he could go free unless the government chooses to challenge the court decision.
Sheikh has already spent 18 years in prison in southern Hyderabad on death row. It was expected that the seven-year sentence will be counted as time served, said Naveed.
The Sindh High Court also acquitted three others accused in the case: Fahad Naseem, Sheikh Adil, and Salman Saqib, who were earlier sentenced to life in prison.
“Justice has been done to my clients,” said Naveed.
Saeed, a former student at the London School of Economics, and the others were convicted in 2002.
The defendants were also collectively fined $32,000. At the time, chief prosecutor Raja Quereshi said the money would go to Pearl’s widow, Mariane, and their infant son, who was born after his father was killed.
Seven more suspects, including those who apparently killed Pearl, were never arrested.
Pearl disappeared January 23 in Karachi while researching links between Pakistani militants and Richard C. Reid, who was arrested in December on a flight from Paris to Miami with explosives in his shoes.
Prosecutors said Saeed lured Pearl into a trap by promising to arrange an interview with an Islamic cleric who police believe was not involved in the conspiracy.
A videotape received by US diplomats in February confirmed that Pearl, 38, was dead.
The Pearl kidnapping was the first of five attacks against Westerners in Pakistan in 2002. A grenade attack against a Protestant church in Islamabad on March 17 killed five people, including two Americans and the attacker.
In January 2011, a report released by the Pearl Project at Georgetown University following an investigation into his death made chilling revelations, claiming that the wrong men were convicted for Pearl’s murder.
Nevertheless, under Pakistani law, abduction that results in death is punishable by death.
The investigation, led by Pearl’s friend and former Wall Street Journal colleague Asra Nomani and a Georgetown University professor, claimed the reporter was murdered by Khalid Sheikh Mohammad, the alleged mastermind of the September 11 2001 attacks, not Sheikh.
Mohammed — better known as KSM — was arrested in Pakistan in 2003 and is being held in Guantanamo Bay.
A US psychologist who interviewed KSM said the prisoner had told him that he had beheaded Pearl.