Tri-State man accused of plotting U.S. Capitol attack sentenced to 30 years

Witness: 30-year sentence would 'crush' Cornell
Posted at 12:59 PM, Dec 05, 2016
and last updated 2016-12-06 07:15:16-05

CINCINNATI -- Maintaining that the court system is rigged, Christopher Cornell had to be escorted out of a federal courtroom after he was sentenced for a terror plot Monday.

Judge Sandra Beckwith sentenced Cornell to 30 years in prison, as the government attorneys recommended, for his plan to attack the U.S. Capitol. Cornell planned to attack government officials during the 2015 State of the Union Address. Beckwith called Cornell's plan for a killing spree "horrific" and "blood-thirsty."

MORE: Video shows Tri-State resident Christopher Cornell plotting terror attack

"The court system is rigged," Cornell claimed as he was led out of court after the sentencing. 

"Keep your head up, Chris," his father, John Cornell, called to him.

Cornell, 22, of Green Township, pleaded guilty in August to one count of attempting to kill government employees, one count of possession of a firearm in furtherance of a crime of violence and one count of attempting to provide material support to a designated foreign terrorist organization.

Officials said Cornell conducted research of weapons, the construction of bombs and possible targets in the Washington, D.C. area. He was arrested Jan. 14, 2015, before he could carry out the attack. Officials found he had two semi-automatic rifles and about 600 rounds of ammunition.


Cornell's attorneys had tried to get a lesser sentence, but the government recommended a prison term of 30 years, the maximum possible under the plea deal.

"This was an horrific crime," U.S. Attorney Benjamin Glassman said. "CAs the judge said, he was plotting a mass murder terrorist attack on Washington, D.C. So I think the 30-year sentence ... was complete right."

Defense attorney Marty Pinales said a sentence of between 10 and 20 years would have been more appropriate because Cornell has matured in the past year and now rejects the radical Islamic propaganda that influenced him.

To try to prove their point, the defense called University of Cincinnati Forensic Psychologist Scott Bresler to the stand Monday morning. He testified that a long prison term would "crush Cornell's life and soul."

"I am concerned that prison will cause hopelessness," Bresler said.

The case began after a government informant noticed Cornell's social media postings and contacted authorities.

The defense has suggested the informant encouraged Cornell to act on his beliefs at the time. Bresler called Cornell "an unusual young man" who wanted to fit in but didn't know how. He said Cornell felt empowered by radical Islam and the informant, who Cornell trusted and cared about. 

The government said Cornell self-radicalized and fully internalized the ideals of radical Islam, saying his change of heart was "gallows remorse."

Cornell apologized in court, at times crying as he described his depression and how he has changed.

"I am truly a different person," he said.

Pinales said he was disappointed by the sentence.

"I've seen a complete transformation in [Cornell] from when we first met and throughout the process, little by little," Pinales said.

However, officials said that Cornell tried to recruit others to support the Islamic State, even after his arrest.

"There is no remorse," Beckwith said. "His break from ISIL is tentative at best."