The family of an American who has been sentenced to death by Iran on espionage charges has hired a prominent Los Angeles-based lawyer who successfully negotiated the release of an Iranian-American businessman from a Tehran prison less than two years ago, a business associate of the lawyer said Tuesday.
The lawyer, Pierre-Richard Prosper, was formally retained by the family of the condemned American, Amir Mirzaei Hekmati, in the past 10 days, well before the Iranian judiciary's announcement on Monday that Hekmati, a 28-year-old former Marine, was guilty of spying for the CIA and would be executed. The ruling is subject to appeal.
Hekmati's incarceration, trial, conviction and death sentence shocked his family, which contends he is an innocent political pawn, and came against a backdrop of Iran's increasingly bellicose relations with the United States over the disputed Iranian nuclear program.
The case has escalated into a new point of contention and possible bargaining leverage in Iran's struggle to counter the tightening vise of Western sanctions because of the nuclear program, which are threatening Iran's economy and have worsened its already estranged ties with the West.
Richard Grenell, a principal at Capitol Media Partners, a Los Angeles communications and public relations firm who works with Prosper, confirmed in a telephone interview that the Hekmati family had retained Prosper, a development first reported by CNN. Grenell declined to comment further.
But the family's decision to hire such well-connected legal counsel suggested it was undertaking a path that would go well beyond the Iranian judicial system to save Hekmati.
Prosper is a former ambassador-at large for war crimes under the Bush administration, as well as a prosecutor for the Rwanda war crimes tribunal at The Hague, Netherlands. Grenell was the director of communications for the United States Mission to the United Nations under the Bush administration.
Both are longtime associates who successfully collaborated to free another American client of Prosper's, Reza Taghavi, a businessman, from Tehran's notorious Evin Prison in October 2010 after Taghavi had spent more than two years there on suspicion of having ties to a domestic Iranian opposition group. But unlike Hekmati, Taghavi was never formally charged.
Iran has a record of arresting and convicting Americans suspected of spying, then freeing them later after bail money has been paid. But rights activists said Hekmati's case was the first in the nearly 33-year history of estranged relations with the United States in which Iran's Islamic authorities had ordered the execution of an American citizen.