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Judge: Boston bombing not an influence in sentencing two men in North Jersey terror case

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

A federal judge on Tuesday declined to reconsider the lengthy prison terms he imposed last month on two would-be Islamic militants from North Jersey who plotted to join a terrorist group in Somalia, rejecting their lawyers’ claim that the judge was improperly influenced by the Boston Marathon bombing.
This combo of two undated mugs provided by the U.S. Marshals on Wednesday June 9, 2010 shows Carlos Almonte, left and Mohamed Alessa, right.
AP-This combo of two undated mugs provided by the U.S. Marshals on Wednesday June 9, 2010 shows Carlos Almonte, left and Mohamed Alessa, right.


Without the benefit of the court transcript, lawyers for Mohamed Alessa of North Bergen and Carlos Almonte of Elmwood Park relied on an “inaccurate” recollection of the arguments by prosecutors in pressing their request for a new sentencing hearing, U.S. District Judge Dickinson R. Debevoise said in an opinion filed in Newark.

Alessa, 23, and Almonte, 27, were sentenced to prison terms of 22 and 20 years, respectively, on April 15, shortly after prosecutors and the judge were informed that two explosions had been reported at the finish line of the Boston Marathon.

The defense lawyers, who were unaware of the bombings at the time, later claimed the government, upon learning of the events in Boston, “abruptly shifted” their arguments to emphasize the vulnerability of the New York metropolitan area to terrorist attack and the need for a 30-year sentence to deter others from carrying out domestic attacks.

But, as the transcript revealed, the remarks about deterrence and the dangers that terrorists pose to people and facilities in the metropolitan area were delivered before the news of the Boston bombing was received, the judge said.

Alessa and Almonte were arrested by the FBI at Kennedy International Airport in June 2010 as they prepared to board separate flights to Egypt on the first leg of a voyage to Somalia. They pleaded guilty in March 2011 to conspiring to join a Somalia-based terrorist group and murder individuals outside the United States.

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Debevoise noted that the sentencing hearing was the culmination of a lengthy process during which both sides submitted thousands of pages of legal memoranda, expert reports and other material. After careful review, he prepared a 43-page preliminary statement of reasons for granting a variance below the 30-year term called for in the federal sentencing guidelines.

The judge said he learned of the Boston explosions from a law clerk as he returned to the courtroom after a break in the five-hour hearing and it did not influence his decision.

Even though the defendants were charged with conspiracy to engage in killings in Somalia, the judge said the pre-sentence report was full of transcribed conversations in which they “looked forward to killing in the United States non-Muslims or Muslims who disagreed with them.”

For example, Alessa told an undercover officer working with the FBI that “he would love to attack the United States homeland on orders of foreign extremists,” the judge noted. In a later conversation with the officer and Almonte, Alessa listed the types of people he desired to kill in the name of his violent extremist ideology and cited congregants of the Islamic Center of Passaic County in Paterson, the report said.

“Thus, there was a potential for terroristic attacks in the United States by [the] defendants,” the judge said. “One purpose of sentencing was to deter these attacks as well as foreign killings. There was no reason why [prosecutors] should not have referred to that objective when arguing for a 30-year sentence and opposing a variance.”

“As it happened, the court was of the opinion that 22 and 20 years, respectively, served that purpose,” Debevoise added. “That was its conclusion before the Boston bombing and before the government argued at the sentencing hearing for a more severe sentence and against a variance.”

Apart from the fact that, in their plea agreement, Alessa and Almonte gave up the right to challenge any sentence of 30 years or less, their motion is barred under a federal law that holds that a court may not modify a term of imprisonment once it has been imposed except under specified circumstances, none of which exist here, Debevoise said.

Lawyers for Alessa and Almonte could not be reached for comment.




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