WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — Jurors began deliberating Tuesday afternoon in the case against three Kansas militia members accused of scheming to bomb a mosque and apartment complex housing Somalis.
During closing arguments, Assistant U.S. Attorney Anthony Mattivi credited another militia member for alerting authorities, calling Dan Day the “one man standing between these three defendants and apartment complex full of innocent people.”
Curtis Allen, Patrick Stein, Gavin Wright face charges of conspiracy to use a weapon of mass destruction and conspiracy against civil rights. Wright also faces a charge of lying to the FBI.
The government has argued the men formed a splinter group of the militia Kansas Security Force that came to be known as “the Crusaders.” The three men were indicted in October 2016 for an attack planned for the day after the Presidential election in the meatpacking town of Garden City, 220 miles (350 kilometers) west of Wichita. The government has said that the men wanted to “exterminate cockroaches,” saying they wanted to send the message that Muslims are not welcomed.
Prosecutors played a jailhouse conversation in which Stein tells his mother, “We were (expletive) infiltrated, mom.”
Day was “the one militia member who decided to do the right thing,” Mattivi said.
Not only did Day alert authorities to the escalating talk of violence, but he agreed to secretly record months of conversations. There were times he was scared for his life, but couldn’t live with himself if that apartment building got blown away, Mattivi told jurors.
“The heart of that hero is the heart of this case,” Mattivi said.
But defense attorneys tried to cast doubt on Day’s credibility as an informant who was paid more than $32,000 during the investigation. It was Day who had suggested the apartment complex as the target, and the FBI picked it because it was a rental property that would allow the government to claim federal jurisdiction in the case, said Melody Brannon, the attorney representing Allen.
“Make no mistake there was a conspiracy — it’s just not the one the government wants you to believe,” Brannon said. “There was indeed a conspiracy but the conspiracy was between Patrick Stein, Dan Day and the FBI.”
Brannon told jurors that the government was “investigating for the conviction, not for the truth.”
She urged jurors not to trust a paid informant who choose the target, asking them to return a not guilty verdict “to tell the government that their evidence and their tactics are too untrustworthy.”
Defense attorney Jim Pratt, who represents Stein, told jurors that the other militia members who had not alerted authorities didn’t so not because they were scared but because they knew the men were just venting and didn’t take their words seriously.
“All words, not action,” Pratt said.
Day and the government gave Stein a sense of purpose and allowed him to continue down a path they created for him to build chargeable offenses, Pratt said.
“It is not morally right to hold such hate, but it is not legally wrong,” Pratt said. “We all have the right to hate.”
Defense attorney Kari Schmidt, who represents Wright, told jurors that her client was not at many of the key moments in the government’s plot.
But the government argued that the defendants manufactured explosives and brought 300 pounds of fertilizer to an undercover agent to make explosives. They planned to put razor blades, nails and ball bearings in the bombs to make them more deadly.
“Defendants didn’t just express their views, the defendants plotted to murder dozens of innocent men women and children,” Mattivi said.
And he said the government left other militia members alone regardless of their views or their guns. He noted the government that the defendants so distrust has given them a fair trial.
“The evidence in this case has showcased the very best of the FBI, the very best of the United States,” Mattivi said.