GloucesterTimes.com, Gloucester, MA

May 17, 2013

NJ terror defendants' claims 'fanciful', feds say


Associated Press

---- — NEWARK, N.J. (AP) — The U.S. attorney’s office filed a response yesterday to claims it acted improperly during the sentencing hearing of two northern New Jersey men on terrorism-related charges last month, asserting that the transcript of the proceeding shows the Boston Marathon bombings that occurred the same day had no prejudicial effect.

Mohamed Alessa and Carlos Almonte were sentenced on April 15 to 22 and 20 years, respectively. They were arrested in 2010 and had pleaded guilty in 2011 to conspiring within the United States to murder individuals outside the U.S. by trying to join al-Shabab, a designated terrorist organization.

Their attorneys want the sentences reconsidered and claim prosecutors learned of the Boston bombings during the sentencing hearing and altered their argument to the judge without giving the defendants a chance to ask for a postponement.

Alessa’s attorney, Stanley Cohen, and James Patton, who represented Almonte, said in a court filing that the government sought “to conceal, then exploit,” the information about the bombings, and that anger over the case in Boston could have clouded the New Jersey case. The attorneys said they would have asked to delay the sentencing had they also been made aware of the attacks.

In a court filing yesterday, the government called the claims “fanciful” and argued that, while an assistant U.S. attorney received a note about the bombings during the hearing, transcripts show he had already shifted from talking about the defendants to talking about “the need to deter violent acts by homegrown violent extremists and the vulnerability of this region to such attacks.”

“The defendants’ allegations are as false as they are sensational,” the government wrote. “The transcript of the sentencing hearing confirms that the arguments about deterrence were completed before either of the AUSAs received any news of the Boston bombings.”

U.S. District Judge Dickinson Debevoise filed a letter with the court last month asserting that news of the bombings had “nothing to do with” the sentence he imposed. Debevoise will now rule on the defendants’ motion to reconsider the sentences.