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Man accused of stabbing renowned author Salman Rushdie rejects plea deal that tied in federal terrorism-related charge

By Nicki Brown and Emma Tucker, CNN

(CNN) — The man accused of stabbing author Salman Rushdie, leaving him blind in one eye, rejected a plea deal Tuesday that would have tied in a federal terrorism-related charge but reduced his state prison sentence, according to the suspect’s lawyer.

The 75-year-old famed author – who has for decades lived under threat because of his writings – was stabbed multiple times onstage as he prepared to give a lecture at the Chautauqua Institution in western New York on August 12, 2022. The suspect, Hadi Matar, has pleaded not guilty to state charges of second-degree attempted murder and second-degree assault.

Under the conditions of the proposed plea deal, Matar would have received a 20-year sentence for the top state charge, which has a maximum sentence of 25 years, according to the Chautauqua County District Attorney’s Office.

The proposed agreement was made with the understanding that Matar would also plead guilty to a federal charge, for which he could receive additional prison time, said his defense attorney, Nathaniel Barone. That charge alleges Matar attempted to provide material support to a foreign terrorist organization, Barone said.

Matar’s total prison time under the agreement likely would have been between 30 and 40 years, with lifetime supervision upon release, according to the DA’s office.

“At this point now, we need to change our direction a little bit and start focusing on actual trial preparation,” Barone told CNN. “It’s going to take us the full next several months leading up to jury selection in order to properly and adequately prepare.”

Matar’s trial is scheduled to begin on September 9, according to his attorney and the prosecutor’s office. The trial was initially set for January 8 this year, but the court granted a request for a delay earlier that month, his attorney previously told CNN.

Barone said Rushdie’s then-upcoming memoir about the 2022 attack and his recovery for it, titled “Knife: Meditations After an Attempted Murder,” was not the reason for the delay in the trial. But he went on to say, “pursuant to the New York State Criminal Procedure Law, the defense is entitled to any and all information associated with the drafting and publication of the book.”

Rushdie and another man who was injured in the attack, Henry Reese, are both expected to testify in the upcoming trial, the DA’s office previously told CNN.

In a phone call with CNN last month, Barone expressed concern about the ability to seat an impartial jury.

“The scene of the incident is literally just five minutes away, it’s right down the road,” he said, adding he plans to request a change of venue for the trial.

Barone said federal officials have also been conducting a “worldwide investigation” into Matar, who is now 26, but there has not yet been a federal indictment.

One of the world’s most celebrated writers, Rushdie endured death threats after his 1988 novel “The Satanic Verses” angered many Muslims, who considered it sacrilegious. The late Iranian leader Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini called for his death and Rushdie spent a decade under British protection.

In the August 2022 attack, the author suffered three stab wounds to his neck, four to his stomach, puncture wounds to his right eye and chest, and a cut on his right thigh, Chautauqua County District Attorney Jason Schmidt has said. Rushdie was blinded in the eye and the attack also affected the use of one of his hands.

Barone has previously said Matar “maintained his innocence on the matter.”

“The one thing I’ve stressed throughout this is, everyone is entitled to their day in court, and there’s the presumption of innocence that’s the most important constitutional right that we can have, any one of us,” Barone told CNN.

CNN’s Michelle Watson contributed to this report.

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