A man who plotted to kill military personnel and workers in Seattle will serve a fraction of the life sentence prosecutors had sought as the result of a plea bargain in a troubled terrorism investigation that involved hundreds of deleted text messages between an informant and his Seattle police handler.
U.S. District Judge James Robart on Monday handed an 18-year prison sentence to 35-year-old Abu Khalid Abdul-Latif, to be followed by 10 years of supervision, for a crime the judge said was motivated by terrorism.
Federal sentencing guidelines likewise recommended a life term, and Robart said the plea deal “well acknowledges” the allegations of evidence destruction that had plagued the case.
U.S. Attorney Jenny Durkan said the sentence was in keeping with others handed down in similar cases where the plot was interrupted before an attack took place.
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Robart criticized what he called the “at-best sloppy” destruction of potential evidence by an informant — identified as Robert Childs, a five-time convicted sex offender — and Seattle police Detective Samuel DeJesus, who deleted more than 400 text messages from Childs from his cellphone after he’d been told to preserve them.
As for the use of Childs, who was paid more than $90,000 for his services, Durkan said, “It’s not the saints who can bring us the sinners.”
Abdul-Latif, formerly known as Joseph Anthony Davis, had converted to Islam while at Western State Hospital undergoing court-order psychiatric tests. He and a co-defendant, Walli Mujahihd, plotted to attack the Military Entrance Processing Station on East Marginal Way on July 5, 2011, with automatic weapons and grenades.
The attack would have been on a Monday, when young recruits show up. Adjacent to the processing station was a day-care center, and prosecutors claim children would have certainly been killed.
The plot was uncovered in May 2011 when Childs, who knew Abdul-Latif, approached police, told them Abdul-Latif was talking about killing soldiers, and agreed to work undercover. Steve Dean, the assistant special agent in charge of the Seattle office of the FBI, praised the informant for coming forward.
Over the next several weeks, Childs wore a wire and recorded hundreds of hours of audio tape in which Abdul-Latif refined his plan to attack the processing station to draw attention to alleged U.S. atrocities in the Middle East and hopefully inspire others to similar attacks.
The informant eventually introduced Abdul-Latif to an undercover FBI agent posing as a weapons broker.
Abdul-Latif was arrested in a videotaped sting after he paid $800 — money he had saved for a pilgrimage to Mecca — for three M-16s and a fragmentation grenade.
Those tapes persuaded Robart to reject the defense contention that the informant manufactured the plot, then lured Abdul-Latif into it.
At a news conference, Durkan repeatedly sidestepped requests to respond to the judge’s assessment of the investigation or whether the deleted texts hurt the prosecution.
However, in court filings last October, shortly after the evidence issues came to light, prosecutors in the case acknowledged the “improper deletion” of hundreds of text message by the detective, calling it a “serious matter” that involved DeJesus being repeatedly told to preserve the messages but deleting them anyway.
Childs also deleted texts from his phone.
The detective was not disciplined for his actions.
Durkan said the end result is what matters — that Abdul-Latif is going to prison and will emerge “a very old man.”
If he serves the entire sentence, Abdul-Latif, who had earlier pleaded guilty, will be 54 when he is released, according to court records.
In recent court filings, prosecutors wrote that “there is every reason to believe that he is a future danger to the community,” and had urged Robart to impose a life term of supervised release.
“Based on evidence in this case, the Court should expect Abdul-Latif to emerge from prison with the same radical and violent ideologies,” prosecutors wrote.
Jennifer Wellman, Abdul-Latif’s federal public defender, said Abdul-Latif was a mentally disturbed man susceptible to the influence of the informant who “groomed and manipulated him” much as he would one of his sex-abuse victims.
Even so, she said Abdul-Latif has acknowledged his role in the plot and accepts the prison term.
Mike Carter: firstname.lastname@example.org or 206-464-3706
Information from Seattle Times archives is included in this report.