MANHATTAN (CN) – Three men convicted of plotting to bomb Bronx synagogues and shoot military airplanes with stinger missiles received 25-year sentences on Wednesday, with a federal judge electing to assign the minimum penalty allowed under the law.
A final co-conspirator of the so-called Newburgh Four is still awaiting sentencing pending the results of a psychiatric evaluation.
James Cromitie, David Williams, Onta Williams and Laguerre Payan have long argued that an ex-con-turned-FBI informant entrapped them by promising to give them $250,000 – and various worldly and otherworldly rewards – if they carried out the plot they never conceived.
Their supporters, some of whom protested outside the court Wednesday, say that the case proves only that the government lured residents of a poverty-stricken city of Newburgh, N.Y., with large sums of money.
U.S. District Judge Colleen McMahon has largely agreed with the defendants on the facts of the case in post-trial appeals, but she said that did not absolve them of walking into the government’s sting.
“What you attempted to do was beyond despicable,” McMahon told Cromitie, David Williams and Onta Williams at sentencing, adding that they were driven by “primitive, tribal hatreds” – and money.
Last month, McMahon rejected the men’s appeals for acquittals or a new trial, and upheld their several counts of conviction. One of those counts, for weapons of mass destruction, demanded that each of the men spend at least 25 years behind bars.
On Wednesday morning, their defense attorneys pleaded with the judge to ignore that mandate, saying that the government created and gave them the inert Stinger missile.
They insisted that the “doctrine of sentence manipulation” gave the judge wiggle room to go below the sentencing minimum.
McMahon agreed that if any such an exception existed, this case would be the case to apply it.
“I doubt that James Cromitie had any idea what a Stinger missile was,” McMahon said, adding that the weapon was “aptly named, given the circumstances.”
She added, however, that no appellate court ever has upheld a below-minimum sentence. “I believe I would thereby violate the law,” she said.
Losing that battle, defense attorneys tried appealing to the judge’s sympathy with stories of their clients’ poverty and upbringing.
Today is Onta Williams’ 35th birthday, his attorney, Susanne Brody, said. She added that he was born fatherless to a “crackhead” mother, before serving felonies for petty drug crimes, the highest criminal backgrounds he ever had before getting ensnared in the bombing plot.
Though she said it “does not excuse his behavior,” a long sentence will ensure that his children will grow up fatherless like him.
“That’s his greatest sorrow,” Brody said.
David Williams, no relation to Onta, was putting together his life after misdemeanor marijuana convictions, building a long-term relationship and working in a Brooklyn restaurant, attorney Theodore Green said.
“Emotionally devastated” by his younger brother’s hospitalization, he found himself “in the orbit” of Shahed Hussain, the FBI informant who involved him in the plot.
Cromitie made direct appeal to the judge, in a long speech that vacillated between remorse and defiance.
“I’ve never been a terrorist, and I never will be a terrorist,” he said.
Although he condemned the government for “what they made me to be,” Cromitie apologized to the judge, the spectators in the courtroom and everyone in the United States, before turning to face his family.
Cromitie and his family cried, but the rambling speech did not endear him to the judge.
“Only the government could have made a terrorist out of Mr. Cromitie, whose buffoonery is utterly Shakespearean in its scope,” McMahon said, before quoting an anti-Semitic remark recorded by the FBI.
“‘All the evil in the world is due to the Jews,’ we heard in those tapes,” she said, adding, “Well, no, it’s not.”
McMahon continued that evil comes from “bigotry and mindless hatred.”
“You three gentlemen acted on a hatred that is particularly horrifying to my generation,” she said.
McMahon was born in 1951, six years after the liberation of the Nazi death camps. She said her sentence would give the men “plenty of time to think how unprofitable your unreasoning hatred turned out to be.”
“By the time you have served 25 years, you will be old men,” McMahon said. “At that point, no one will have any interest in using you.”
Though prosecutors had hoped the men would never leave prison, Manhattan U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara praised the sentence. “As reflected in the sentences imposed by Judge McMahon, these were extremely serious crimes that targeted New York and its citizens,” Bharara said in a statement.
Sentencing for the fourth defendant, Payen, has been postponed pending the results of his psychiatric evaluation on Thursday.
McMahon said in a court document that Payen’s previous examinations determined that he was a “malingerer,” a term describing someone who fakes or exaggerates mental or physical disorders.
Attorneys for the other three men said they planned to appeal.