Share story

NORFOLK, Va. — A jury recommended Friday that three Somali pirates be sentenced to life in prison in the slayings of four Americans, including two from Seattle, aboard a yacht off the coast of Africa.

Prosecutors had sought the death penalty, and 22 of the 26 crimes they were convicted of were death-eligible offenses. But the federal jury in Norfolk recommended the only other possible sentence for Ahmed Muse Salad, 20; Abukar Osman Beyle, 25; and Shani Nurani Shiekh Abrar, 29.

During the sentencing phase of the trial, defense attorneys attempted to raise doubts about the certainty of the crimes of which the pirates were convicted. Salad’s attorney Claire Cardwell noted that nobody was able to definitively say which person shot which victim, and that much of the evidence presented relied on testimony of other pirates who had been convicted.

If the jury and the government wanted to dole out justice by taking an eye for an eye, “Which eye, for which eye?” she asked.

This week, save 90% on digital access.

Formal sentencing for the men will take place in October and November, and they will face numerous life sentences and additional time.

The three men were among 19 who boarded the Quest in February 2011 several hundred miles off the coast of Somalia in hopes of taking the Americans back to Somalia and ransoming them for millions of dollars. The plan fell apart when the U.S. Navy began shadowing the sailing vessel.

The yacht’s owners, Jean and Scott Adam of Marina del Rey, Calif., and their friends, Robert Riggle, 67, and Phyllis Macay, 59, of Seattle, were shot to death a few days after negotiations with the Navy broke down.

“Scott Adam, Jean Adam, Phyllis Macay and Robert Riggle lost their lives and their families lost their loved ones. Nothing can make this right; nothing can make their families whole again — but we hope today’s verdict and sentences will bring some closure to their nightmare that began two years ago on the Indian Ocean,” U.S. Attorney Neil MacBride said.

The Adams had the Quest custom-built in New Zealand with $1.5 million they raised by selling their homes. Jean Adam, 66, had been a dentist; Scott Adam, 70, was an assistant director on films and TV shows, including “The Dukes of Hazzard” and “The Love Boat.”

Prosecutors said the pirates shot the Americans 41 times. “Let’s call it what it is. It was a massacre,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Joseph DePadilla told jurors while arguing for the death penalty during closing arguments this week.

Eleven other defendants who were aboard the Quest have pleaded guilty to piracy and have been sentenced to life in prison.

Four other suspected pirates were killed aboard the yacht. A fifth suspected pirate was released because he was a juvenile. Another man who prosecutors say was a land-based negotiator and the highest-ranking pirate they’ve ever captured has also been convicted of piracy and sentenced to a dozen life sentences in prison.

Material from The Seattle Times archive is included in this report.

Custom-curated news highlights, delivered weekday mornings.