Attorneys: Tri-State man behind terror plot now rejects "radical Islam" wants lighter sentence

Posted at 2:44 PM, Nov 30, 2016
and last updated 2016-11-30 15:05:20-05

CINCINNATI (AP) -- A suburban Cincinnati youth who plotted to attack the U.S. Capitol has matured and now rejects "radical Islamic propaganda" that influenced him, his defense attorneys said in urging a lighter prison term than the 30 years prosecutors are seeking.

The attorneys for Christopher Lee Cornell, 22, say a sentence between 10 and 20 years would be more appropriate.

Cornell is scheduled for sentencing Dec. 5 by Judge Sandra Beckwith after earlier pleading guilty to three charges, including attempted murder of U.S. officials and employees, in a plot to attack during President Barack Obama's 2015 State of the Union address.

"A 30-year sentence is much too long," attorneys Martin Pinales and Candace Crouse wrote in a sentencing memo filed Tuesday evening. "This court should not throw away a troubled young man who lost his way through reading ISIS propaganda online."

They describe Cornell as a lonely, depressed youth who became self-radicalized, living "a fantasy life behind a computer screen." They say he was steered by a paid FBI confidential informant who added "fuel to the fire" while seeking to avoid punishment in his own terrorism case.

The attorneys, who plan to call a psychologist who has met repeatedly with Cornell to testify at sentencing, also said Cornell's plot was infeasible and likely reflected a mental condition that distorted reality. They say Cornell told the informant he planned to wear a turban, black camouflage and sandals, enter the Capitol building through the front door, and take aim at Obama while he spoke.

The FBI arrested him Jan. 14, 2015, in a western Cincinnati suburban gun shop parking lot, saying he had just bought two M-15 semi-automatic rifles and 600 rounds of ammunition.

In their sentencing memo filed earlier, prosecutors said Cornell continued in jail to promote violence, trying to circulate his "Message to America" call for others to "fight against the disbelieving people of America." Authorities said he was able to circumvent a security program on a jail computer terminal meant for legal research to make internet posts about his Capitol attack plan and call for others to wage "violent jihad."

A federal judge last week sentenced another suburban Cincinnati man, Munir Abdulkader, 22, of West Chester Township, to 20 years in prison for an alleged plot to behead a military veteran and then attack a police department in support of the Islamic State group.

Authorities are still investigating what motivated an Ohio State University student killed Monday by police after launching a car-and-knife attack, but have said terrorism is a possibility.