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Judge Unlikely to Void Plea Deal in San Bernardino Terror Attack

A federal judge in California said Friday he was not won over by the arguments of a man who wants to withdraw his guilty plea for supplying the rifles used in the deadly 2015 San Bernardino terrorist attack.

RIVERSIDE, Calif. (CN) – A federal judge in California said Friday he was not won over by the arguments of a man who wants to withdraw his guilty plea for supplying the rifles used in the deadly 2015 San Bernardino terrorist attack.

Over a two-day period, U.S. District Judge Jesus G. Bernal listened to testimony and argument about the state of mind of Enrique Marquez Jr. after he learned that his neighbors carried out a mass shooting that killed 14 people.

The incident has been classified a terrorist act, because Syed Rizwan Farook and his wife Tashfeen Malik were inspired by the Islamic State Group when they targeted a holiday party at the Inland Regional Center in San Bernardino on Dec. 2, 2015.

According to expert testimony, Marquez drank eight beers and drove his car to a pier to kill himself when he learned of the shooting that day, because he knew that the rifles used in the attack were guns he purchased and gave to the couple.

Marquez pleaded guilty in February 2017 to supplying the rifles, but now wants to back out of the plea deal.

On Friday, Marquez’s attorney John Aquilina argued a jury should decide his client’s guilt and asked Bernal to throw out the plea agreement.

Bernal asked Aquilina why Marquez agreed to the agreement in the first place.

Aquilina said Marquez agreed to the deal out of a moral responsibility to the families and victims of the shooting and wanted to “sacrifice himself on the altar” to end the process of a trial. Several family members of the victims and survivors of the shooting were present during Friday’s hearing.

The consequences of his actions, the lengthy prison sentence and what that entailed didn’t matter to Marquez at the time.

An expert witness testified Marquez is a high-functioning autistic man with superior intellect. His medication changes were detailed throughout the two-day proceeding before Bernal.

But in his closing remarks, Aquilina said the changes in medication did not help or harm Marquez’s decision-making process. Later, Bernal asked why, in a sealed declaration in the motion to withdraw his plea, Marquez said he felt better with his new medication and why the court should consider that if Aquilina says it wasn’t a factor.

“You can’t have it both ways,” said Bernal. “You can’t say it didn’t affect him and then it did.”

Later, Bernal pointedly asked why Marquez wants to withdraw his plea.

Aquilina said, “Only Mr. Marquez knows that.”

Assistant U.S. Attorney Melanie Sartoris called the motion a “change of heart, a change of mind” by Marquez and that would not be a fair and just reason to withdraw a plea.

“He’s not different from any other defendant,” said Sartoris.

Earlier in the hearing Marquez, now 28, listened to a forensic neuropsychologist describe him as a high-functioning person at the top of the autism spectrum who likes to play video games, fixates on topics, avoids eye contact, prefers to interact with people online and has an IQ of 129.

Dr. Daniel Martell interviewed Marquez over four hours to evaluate his mental state and whether he was in the right state of mind to withdraw his plea. When asked if he has any friends, Marquez said, “Jack, Daniels.”

Aquilina asked Martell what he made of the joke considering the nature of the interview.

“It’s odd,” Martell said. He went on to diagnose Marquez as autistic but functioning.

From 2005 to 2012, Marquez was close friends with his neighbor Farook, an American of Pakistani descent.

Over time, Marquez moved in with his neighbors, converted to Islam and started to work at a Muslim bookstore due to Farook’s influence over him, according to expert testimony.

That friendship also included planning other terrorist attacks at a local community college, on a busy highway and at a Veteran’s Administration hospital, according to federal prosecutors. Those plans never developed into anything, but a portion of a confidential transcript read in court showed that Marquez acknowledged making plans with Farook to federal agents.

Aquilina asked Martell if Marquez was susceptible to manipulation by Farook because he is on the autistic spectrum.

He was certainly influenced but the relationship was not one-sided, said Martell. The main benefit to Marquez to have a friend and to be accepted.

Martell said Marquez appeared to be aware of the consequences of his actions when he pleaded guilty, but there was no way to know what he was thinking at the time.

Marquez faces 25 years in prison if his plea agreement is upheld.

Bernal took the arguments under submission and did not indicate when he would rule.

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