The lawyer for a deported Egyptian grandmother asked the state's highest court yesterday to erase her three-year sentence for helping to spirit her grandson away to Egypt with his mother, contending that anything Afaf Khalifa might have done took place before a new state law increased the criminal penalty.
But the Maryland attorney general's office told the state Court of Appeals that the Anne Arundel County conviction should be upheld because Khalifa continued helping her daughter in Cairo after the Maryland law was changed.
Adam and Jason Shannon, the subjects of a custody dispute, were taken to Egypt in August 2001, when their American father had temporary custody of Adam. In October of that year, a new law increased the penalties to three years from one year for conspiracy in connection with children abducted to foreign countries.
Khalifa, 61, a member of a wealthy Egyptian family, was convicted last year of multiple counts connected to helping her daughter, Nermeen Shannon, abduct the boys to Egypt, where they remain.
Nermeen Shannon, born in the United States to Egyptian parents, holds dual U.S.-Egyptian citizenship.
Khalifa's sentence later was reduced from 10 years to three. She recently was paroled after serving half of the reduced sentence and was deported.
But her case is not moot because a three-year sentence would bar her from returning, said her lawyer, William C. Brennan Jr.
"My client loves the United States," Brennan said outside the courtroom. He said Khalifa's husband and four grown children have U.S. citizenship, and Khalifa "would like to have the opportunity to return."
Her citizenship application was pending during her criminal trial, according to Brennan's brief to the court.
Michael Shannon, who is divorced from Nermeen Shannon, said he wants to see his children, now ages 7 and 3, - of whom he has legal custody - at his Millersville home, something the criminal case has not accomplished.
He said that his former wife has said he could visit the children in Egypt, but that he fears for his safety.
Asked by Judge Lynne A. Battaglia during yesterday's arguments if Khalifa was obligated to return the children or stop helping her daughter keep them in the family's Cairo homes, Solicitor General Gary E. Bair replied, "I think both, your honor."
Bair said Khalifa remained with her daughter and grandsons in Cairo after the law changed Oct. 1, 2001, making it a "continuing offense" for her to aid her daughter when she knows the boys' father has been awarded custody of them.
But Brennan contended that Khalifa's role in helping her daughter take Adam out of the United States and keep him in Egypt was a one-time act completed upon the family's arrival in Cairo - before the new law took effect.
"What affirmative duty does my client have to return the children to Maryland when she is a grandmother simply living in her daughter's apartment in Cairo?" Brennan asked the seven-judge court.
Judge Irma S. Raker responded that Khalifa played a role in creating the situation.
In his briefs to the court, Brennan also asked that Khalifa's convictions be erased and a new trial ordered.
The Court of Appeals has no deadline for issuing its opinion.
Warrant for mother
Michael and Nermeen Shannon married in 1996. They separated in 2000 and are divorced.
In August 2001, Nermeen Shannon, her mother and the boys flew to Egypt.
Within weeks, Michael Shannon was awarded custody of both boys. Khalifa's case involved only Adam because their mother had custody of the other boy when she returned to Egypt.
An arrest warrant awaits Nermeen Shannon if she returns to the United States. Last year, she told The Sun that her boys were "adapting well" to their new lives in Egypt.
Michael Shannon said he is asking Egyptian courts to honor the U.S. court's custody order.