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Charles Taylor's defense lawyers call 80-year sentence 'excessive'

May 11, 2012 |  5:43 am

REPORTING FROM JOHANNESBURG - Defense lawyers for former Liberian President Charles Taylor, convicted last month of war crimes, said Friday the 80-year jail sentence sought by the prosecution was too harsh.

Taylor, 64, could face the rest of his life in jail.

In a pre-sentencing hearing at the U.N.-backed Special Court for Sierra Leone at the Hague, Taylor's lawyers filed papers arguing that the sentence was unjustified and disproportionate to his crimes.

Taylor was convicted on 11 counts of aiding and abetting brutal rebels in war crimes committed from 1996 to 2002 during Sierra Leone's civil war, in return for blood diamonds. He faces sentencing at the end of the month.

The prosecution has called for 80 years in jail to reflect "the extraordinary suffering caused by Mr. Taylor's knowing, willing and long enduring participation in the crimes committed in Sierra Leone and recognize the critical role he played in a criminal campaign of atrocities which lasted years."

But the prosecution contends the court should look at not just the nature of the crimes, but the extent to which Taylor was involved.

"It would be manifestly unfair to impose a sentence, which effectively puts all moral blame for all the atrocities committed in Sierra Leone solely on Mr. Taylor's shoulders, as the prosecution suggests," the defense submission argued.

Taylor is to serve any jail sentence in Britain, but his lawyers Friday argued this would amount to exile and would leave him culturally isolated. If he served time in Britain, he should be given a lesser sentence, the defense said, claiming it was effectively a "punishment within a punishment."

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--Robyn Dixon

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