SACRAMENTO, Calif. -- College dropout Stephen Bilson, 25, has been sentenced to 15 years in federal prison for trying to hijack a jetliner in what he claimed was an effort to free the American hostages in Iran.
U.S. District Judge Milton Schwartz Thursday sentenced Bilson as a youthful offender instead of as an adult.
As a result, he can be paroled at any time by prison officials.
If sentenced as an adult, Bilson could have received a 20 years to life term.
'He wanted to rescue the hostages that this country of ours hasn't been able to get back,' Robert Holley, the hijacker's lawyer, told Schwartz before sentencing.
'That's all he wanted to do. He thought that what he was doing was morally right.'
Holley also said he would appeal the Aug. 12 conviction because 'Stephen was insane' when he boarded a Pacific Southwest Airlines 727 at Stockton, Calif., Metropolitan Airport on May 1 with a .32-caliber revolver. A flight engineer seized the weapon and the plane never left the ground. Bilson later said he planned the hijacking to free the American hostages in Iran.
Bilson was convicted of attempted air piracy and of committing a felony with a firearm.
Bilson, a junior at California State College-Stanislaus before he dropped out early this year, was assigned to the federal youthful offender facility at Englewood, Colo, for psychiatric treatment.