WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — Somali immigrants can testify at the sentencing this month of three militia members convicted of plotting to bomb their apartment complex in a southwest Kansas city, a federal judge ruled Tuesday.
Defense attorneys had hoped to block the 20 short videos of victim testimony from being played at the Jan. 25 sentencing hearings. In a 34-page opinion, U.S. District Judge Eric Melgren also allowed sentencing enhancements for hate crimes and terrorism.
Patrick Stein, Gavin Wright and Curtis Allen were each convicted in April of one count of conspiracy to use a weapon of mass destruction and one count of conspiracy against civil rights. Wright was also found guilty of lying to the FBI.
The weapon of mass destruction charge carries a possible maximum sentence of life in prison, while the civil rights violation could add a decade more behind bars. Prosecutors are seeking life terms for all three. The sentencing enhancements for terrorism and hate crimes bolster the government’s recommendations.
The attack, planned for the day after the 2016 general election in Garden City, was thwarted by another member of the group who tipped off authorities about escalating threats of violence. Garden City is about 220 miles (350 kilometers) west of Wichita.
Prosecutors said the men formed a splinter group of the right-wing, anti-immigrant militia Kansas Security Force that came to be known as “the Crusaders.”
Defense attorneys argued that the Somalis weren’t victims because no one was hurt. Prosecutors countered that the defendants are trying to de-personalize their crimes and that federal law guarantees every victim the right to be heard at sentencing.
Melgren found that their testimony is relevant at sentencing to determine the overall impact of the crimes, saying he would not be unduly influenced by them since he heard all the evidence at trial. He said the intended victims are entitled to have their statements heard.
“Defendants have not demonstrated that, even if the residents are not entitled to testify, that the Court is stripped of its discretion to hear the testimony,” according to the ruling.