A federal jury has found a young man guilty of attempted terrorism, for plotting to set off a dummy bomb at a Christmas tree-lighting ceremony in Portland in 2010. The jury reached a decision this afternoon in the case of Mohamed Mohamud. The defense had argued that Mohamud was lured into the plot by FBI agents in a sting operation. His attorneys said Mohamud would not have engaged in the plot on his own. But the jury found Mohamud guilty, after deliberating less than 7 hours. April Baer was at the courthouse this afternoon. She’s been following the trial, and joins me now.
Beth Hyams: April, first of all, what was Mohamud found guilty of?
April Baer: Prosecutors leveled only one charge in this case: Mohamud was found guilty of knowingly attempting to use a weapon of mass destruction. There were so many reporters present I was sitting in an overflow room, but a source in the courtroom said Mohamud did not react when the verdict was read. He appeared in a grey sweater and checked shirt.
We don’t know exactly how the jury took to reach this conclusion. But prosecutors had to prove one of two things:
that Mohamud was predisposed to commit a crime before the FBI reached out with its undercover operation.
OR they had to show FBI did not induce Mohamud to key in the code he believed would detonate the bomb at Pioneer Courthouse Square. Meaning to say, he was not subject to pressure, rewards, or swayed by offers of sympathy or friendship on the part of the undercover agents.
Beth Hyams: Did any of the jurors speak after the trial?
April Baer: No. They left from side doors. The one I was able to follow did not respond. The judge asked them to show respect if they chose to talk to people about their deliberations. They may or may not come forward.
They deliberated less than seven hours. It’s not easy to predict these things, but court watchers will tell you a short deliberation is sometimes an indicator a guilty verdict is on the way.
Beth Hyams: What did the defense attorneys have to say?
April Baer: The lead defense counsel on this case was Steve Sady, a career public defender with decades of experience. He said many mitigating factors surround Muhamud’s case — some of which came out at trial, others which will be presented for the first time to the judge at sentencing.
“My thoughts are that I’m disappointed with the result,” Sady said. “I think I said a number of times that I thought that the FBI took it too far. And I think that we are hopeful that those mitigating factors will be considered at sentencing. And we hope that we’ll have a chance to present those in a more full way in the future.”
April Baer: As you can hear, it sounds like the team’s already thinking about an appeal.
Defense attorneys filed a motion today suggesting some of the judge’s instructions to the jury warrant a second look. At the time, the jury was still deliberating, and the defense suggested the judge either change the instructions or declare a mistrial. The judge did not agree to do either.
Beth Hyams: The government also issued statements, I gather?
April Baer: Prosecutor Ethan Knight was on the steps of the courthouse after the verdict was read. He said he agreed with the jury’s verdict and said it was sad.
“This defendant’s conduct impacted a number of people including his family,” Knight said. “But we believe that the evidence showed in court makes clear that this investigation and this prosecution rightfully addressed a significant threat and a dangerous situation.”
April Baer: We also got a written statement from the FBI’s Special Agent in Charge, Greg Fowler. He did not hold this same job when Mohamud was arrested, but as head of the local FBI office, he’s the one who speaks for the extensive work the FBI did on this case. Fowler writes, “Mr. Mohamud made a series of choices over a period of several years - choices that were leading him down a path that would have ended in violence. His actions showed little regard for the rights and responsibilities that come with being an American or respect for the lives that he was prepared to take.”
Beth Hyams: Mohamud’s case is one of several sting operations that the FBI has prosecuted against young men. How have the other cases turned out?
April Baer: This is one of a string of victories for the government in counterterrorism sting cases. There were six other convictions at the time Mohamud was arrested in which defendants had claimed the entrapment defense, and were able to see their cases through the court system. None were acquitted. So this case is consistent with the national pattern.
Beth Hyams: The case now goes to the sentencing phase. What will that involve?
April Baer: There’ll be a hearing May 14th. These can be somewhat lengthy proceedings, depending. Attorneys on both sides can present additional arguments.The guidelines are no longer mandatory, only advisory. Judge King might go below the suggested range if he sees fit. There was man named Antonio Martinez arrested in Maryland shortly after Mohamud in a similar sting operation. He pleaded guilty, unlike Mohamud, and received a 25 year sentence. As you can imagine, sentences for these types of charges are quite long.