Enhanced Sentences|Upheld for Bridge Bombers | Courthouse News Service
Tuesday, November 28, 2023
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Enhanced Sentences|Upheld for Bridge Bombers

(CN) - The 6th Circuit affirmed enhanced sentences for four Occupy Cleveland members who tried to blow up an Ohio bridge in an act of May Day terrorism.

Douglas Wright, Brandon Baxter, Connor Stevens and Anthony Hayne were arrested after they placed explosives at the base of a bridge along Route 82 in Brecksville, Ohio in April 2012.

The four young men were involved in the Occupy movement in Cleveland, where at one protest they met a man who was an undercover informant for the FBI.

The informant arranged for them to buy riot gear, including retractable batons and gas masks, to participate in a protest against the NATO/G8 summit in Chicago.

The snitch also arranged for the men to buy explosives, though it is unclear how the men reached this decision, especially as they had no target in mind at the time.

The defendants claimed in court that the confidential informant "relentlessly prodded the group to purchase explosives, until they eventually acquiesced," according to the 24-page ruling.

Wright allegedly brought up the idea of obtaining C-4 explosives beforehand, and Baxter noted that if they blew up the bridge, the government would have to place "security on almost every bridge in the entire [expletive] country." (Brackets as in ruling.)

The undercover agent drove the men to a motel to meet another agent posing as an arms dealer. He sold the group two inert C-4 explosive devices, and showed them how to detonate the devices using a cell phone.

Then the four men, plus the informant, placed the explosives at the base of the bridge's support column, and tried to detonate the bombs. The FBI arrested them shortly afterward.

According to a defense explosives expert, the group had used too little C-4 to cause more than minor damage to the bridge even if it had been active.

Three of the four men originally pleaded not guilty until Anthony Hayne, who joined the conspiracy on the day they bought the C-4, agreed to testify for the prosecution.

At sentencing, the district court added a 12 level terrorism enhancement to their sentences, although it applied a downward variance because the explosives were inert.

Wright was sentenced to 324 to 405 months, with an additional enhancement for being the leader of the plot. Baxter was sentenced to 117 months, and Stevens to 97 months in prison. Hayne was sentenced to 72 months in prison based on his "substantial assistance" to the prosecution.

The 6th Circuit affirmed the sentences Friday, finding that the three main defendants expected that their acts would be perceived as terrorism.

"Both Wright and Baxter also observed that they expected to be sent to Guantanamo Bay if their bombing scheme was discovered. Additionally, after the defendants had placed the inert explosives at the base of the bridge, Stevens commented that they had 'just committed the biggest act of, only act of terrorism, that I know [of] in Cleveland since the 1960's.' Stevens further characterized the bridge-bombing attempt as a 'nice learning experience' for 'testing' the capacities of the explosive devices the group had planted or the feasibility of future actions," Judge Guy Cole wrote for the three-judge panel.

"These conversations establish that Wright, Baxter, and Stevens were aware of the consequences of their acts and chose to act in ways that would bring about those consequences, even if they had other goals in mind, such as antagonizing the 'one percent,'" the judge wrote.

While the court's majority affirmed Hayne's sentence, Cole dissented, writing that "it is not clear how the district court arrived at its conclusion that Hayne possessed the necessary intent," to qualify for a terrorism sentence enhancement, given that he was a latecomer to the conspiracy.

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