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Judge waits to sentence teen who cut Sikh student’s hair

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Umair Ahmed, 18, was found guilty in February of menacing as a hate crime, coercion as a hate crime, criminal possession and harassment, the Queens district attorney said. The Pakistani-born Muslim, who is scheduled to return to court June 5, could be sentenced to as much as four years in prison. If the sentence involves jail time instead of youth-offender treatment, Ahmed could face deportation when his sentence ends, separating him from his parents and five siblings.But Judge Joel Blumenfeld put off the decision until Ahmed receives a psychiatric evaluation and possible anger management treatment, a process that takes roughly six weeks.He also questioned defense attorney Bruce Maffeo's approach of providing letters of support for his client from teachers, friends and family, but not scheduling such an evaluation which would provide an expert's insight."A judge in some ways is like a computer: garbage in, garbage out," Blumenfeld said. "Give me a sense of what makes him tick."Both the victim and prosecutor Michael Brovner were adamant Ahmed should serve time in jail."He took my identity from me," said Harpal Vacher, who was 15 when Ahmed cut his hair, in a statement at the sentencing hearing. "Once it has been cut, you lose your purity of being natural."Sikhs regard the intactness of their hair as sacred."We give our head before our hair," Vacher said.Brovner asked for a sentence of one to three years behind bars, accusing Ahmed of showing now remorse."After the verdict, he glared at Harpal," he said.On May 24, 2007, Ahmed approached Vacher in the lunchroom of Newtown High School and told him the only way he would forgive him for an earlier spat would be if he let Ahmed cut his hair, authorities said. The two students had exchanged insults about each other's mother the previous day, Blumenfeld said."For what? It is against my religion," Vacher responded, according to authorities. Ahmed then displayed a ring with Islamic inscriptions and threatened to punch Vacher if he did not go along with him, leaving the mark of Allah on his face, authorities said in a criminal complaint.Ahmed ordered Vacher into the bathroom, threatening to find him after school, cut his hair and send him home naked if Vacher refused, the DA said. He then cut the Sikh's hair.Matteo argued for a youthful offender treatment sentence without any jail time, noting Ahmed has Sikh friends and had no prior history of actions against people of other religions or races. Blumenfeld suggested letting the Sikh community determine Ahmed's community service, but Brovner objected."I'm hesitant to send someone who has had conflicts in a particular group to work with that group," he said.Reach reporter Jeremy Walsh by e-mail at jwalsh@timesledger.com or by phone at 718-229-0300, Ext. 154.

Updated 6:58 pm, October 10, 2011
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