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Possible release of Pan Am 103 bomber opposed

Glenn Johnson had done the math. Sentenced to a minimum of 27 years for killing Johnson's daughter and 269 others in the 1988 bombing of Pan Am Flight 103 above Lockerbie, Scotland, Abdelbaset Ali Mohmed al-Megrahi would serve about 36 days for each of his victims.

Genn Johnson had done the math. Sentenced to a minimum of 27 years for killing Johnson's daughter and 269 others in the 1988 bombing of Pan Am Flight 103 above Lockerbie, Scotland, Abdelbaset Ali Mohmed al-Megrahi would serve about 36 days for each of his victims.

Now, as Scottish officials consider freeing the terminally ill Megrahi less than halfway into his sentence, the numbers don't add up for Johnson.

"That's just plain outrageous, that he could do 15 days for my daughter's death," said Johnson, 67, of Greensburg, Pa.
Beth Ann Johnson was a 21-year-old student at Seton Hill College in Greensburg when she died on Dec. 21 in the Libya-sponsored bombing of the London-to-New York flight, which carried 38 New Jerseyans and 14 Pennsylvanians.

In an e-mail that Johnson and other family members of bombing victims received yesterday morning, Scottish official Linda Miller wrote that she could "confirm that the justice secretary intends to make a decision this month" on an application by Megrahi for compassionate release due to his illness.

Johnson, former chairman of the Victims of Pan Am Flight 103 advocacy group, who met with government officials in Scotland three years ago, said Scottish authorities told him that Megrahi has prostate cancer.
BBC and Sky News have reported that Megrahi could be released as early as next week, but Miller called that "media speculation."

Lawyers for Megrahi have filed two applications: for his release or, alternatively, for his transfer to a Libyan prison.

"I wish to make clear that the final submission on these applications has not been received by the justice secretary, and therefore no decision has been taken in respect of either application," Miller wrote.

The news that the Scottish government was considering a compassionate release incensed Susan Cohen, 71, of Cape May Court House.

"I think it's absolutely appalling," said Cohen, mother of another victim. "He killed all these people. Where do our sympathies lie?"

Cohen's 20-year-old daughter, Theodora, a voice and theater student at Syracuse University who died in the bombing, had been studying abroad.

Megrahi "should die in jail," Cohen said.

The Libyan, said to be 57, is believed to have been among many responsible for the bombing.

His sentencing was "a tiny sliver of justice," Cohen said. "Everyone else involved has gotten away with this."

Pursuing justice in the Pan Am bombing was a long and at times frustrating process for victims' relatives.

Megrahi, a Libyan intelligence agent, was convicted in January 2001 of the 270 murders. A second defendant in the trial, Lamen Khalifa Fhimah, a former Libyan Arab Airlines employee, was acquitted on charges that he helped plant the suitcase containing the explosive that detonated while the plane was over the south of Scotland.

After the verdict, Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi proclaimed his nation's innocence, calling Megrahi "a hostage, not a convict." But in a 2003 letter sent to the U.N. Security Council conditioned on the victims' families' accepting compensation for the attack, a Libyan official said "the country accepts responsibility for the actions of its officials."

Last year, Libya agreed to pay survivors the final installment of a $2.7 billion settlement — $10 million per victim — in exchange for immunity from terror-related lawsuits and the dismissal of pending compensation cases.

Kara Weipz of Mount Laurel, whose brother Rick Monetti was killed, said she was awaiting further direct communication from the Scottish government. Monetti, of Cherry Hill, was 20 when he died.

"If the stories turn out to be true, I don't even know if words can describe how I feel," said Weipz, another former president of the Victims of Pan Am Flight 103. "It's so much disappointment, dismay and anger, and that doesn't even do it justice."

Obama administration officials also remained cautious.

"We have no information to suggest that the Scottish authorities have made any decision," Ben Chang, deputy spokesman for the White House National Security Council, said yesterday. "That said, we maintain our longstanding position that he serve out his full sentence in Scotland."

Lawyer James Kreindler, who helped represent the victims in their civil suit and who watched from the courtroom as Megrahi was tried criminally, said it was understandable that the families of U.S. victims would be upset by his release.

"There is no compassionate-release provision in U.S. laws. It's alien to us," Kreindler said. The release is intended to allow terminally ill offenders to spend time with loved ones.

He said he did not know of any legal channels the families could take to prevent Megrahi's potential release. "It's completely up to Scotland," he said.

Weipz, who teaches at a Cherry Hill nursery school, said it was hard for her "to feel compassion for someone who has no remorse."

"I think we need to keep in mind who the bad guys are here," she said.