Judge dismisses two counts against Tennessee man convicted of plotting to attack Muslim communityRead more
The Tennessee man convicted of plotting to attack a Muslim community faces less prison time after a federal judge tossed out two of his guilty verdicts Friday.
Robert Doggart, 65, never made "true threats" against the town of Islamberg, N.Y., because he didn't personally intimidate its residents while recruiting about 10 supporters to attack the 70-acre commune in early 2015, U.S. District Judge Curtis Collier wrote in an opinion.
As a result, Collier dismissed two counts of threats in interstate commerce that jurors seemed to struggle with themselves before finding Doggart guilty of all charges at his eight-day trial in February.
"There was no evidence to support what is also required: that the words [Doggart] said to [one conspirator] were, in and of themselves, intended to further a goal through intimidation," Collier wrote. "The government tries to gloss over this lack of evidence by describing [Doggart's] goal as intimidating his victims by committing, in the future, the firebombing and killing he was discussing
"But to be a 'true threat,'" Collier concluded, "it must be the words themselves that are intended to intimidate, not any actions that may grow out of the words."
It's unclear how this affects Doggart's sentencing, which is scheduled for June 14. Prosecutors said in February that Doggart faces up to 40 years imprisonment among his four convictions; he now faces a maximum of 20. Before Friday, defense attorneys believed a year was more appropriate since their client had no prior criminal history before April 2015.
"I haven't really figured out how this ruling affects his possible sentence," Leslie Cory, one of Doggart's attorneys, said Friday. "It definitely reduces the statutory maximum he faces, but I'm just glad he won two counts."
The government declined to comment Friday but could appeal Collier's decision after Doggart's sentencing.
Doggart, who is imprisoned in DeKalb County, Ala., remains convicted of one count of solicitation to commit a civil rights violation and one count of solicitation to burn down a mosque — the more serious of his charges. His defense attorneys pushed Collier to dismiss those convictions, too, but the federal judge didn't bite.
A former 2014 congressional candidate, Doggart believed Islamberg was a training ground for terrorists and wanted to see for himself whether its members were planning to attack New York City or poison the Delaware River, prosecutors said. Law enforcement officers found no evidence of any such attack planned by the residents of the commune, but Doggart attempted to recruit several people anyway.
To prove he was a threat, prosecutors played numerous wiretapped phone calls in which Doggart discussed using assault weapons, machetes and demolition equipment on the roughly 70-acre commune. In one, he referred to children as "collateral damage" and described himself as being a standoff gunner in the event his reconnaissance team encountered violent community members. Doggart often spoke with a confidential informant for the FBI, driving at one point in March 2015 to meet him in a Ruby Tuesday's, and other militia members in South Carolina and Illinois who had varying levels of interest in his plan.
Doggart was ultimately arrested April 10, 2015, the day before authorities believed he planned to drive to New York alone.
His defense attorneys argued at trial — and in several motions afterward — that Doggart never made true threats; he was blowing smoke with several veterans who made the divorced father of four feel significant. Plus, they argued, many Islamberg residents didn't learn about the plot until after the 65-year-old's arrest in April, so how was interstate commerce affected?
For example, when prosecutors called community member Noori Brooks, who testified that he and his wife owned a bookstore on the second-story of Islamberg's mosque, defense attorneys countered that Zavia Books didn't print its first book until May 2015 — after Doggart was charged.
Tahirah Amutal-Wadud, an attorney who is working on a civil lawsuit in New York to permanently bar Doggart from entering Islamberg, said Friday that residents, friends and family are focused on the 137 pages of letters they sent to Collier for consideration at the June 14 sentencing — not the two counts. The letters were filed a day before Collier's ruling. One, from a 13-year-old, questioned why Doggart feels comfort when Islamberg residents feel nothing but anxiety every time a stranger approaches their community.
"Robert Doggart claimed we were terrorist and had plans to bring harm to the people of this great nation," another community member, Khadijah Smith, wrote in her letter. "As you can see, he turned out to be the real terrorist and has been found guilty of plotting to bring harm to fellow Americans.
"Robert Doggart never considered the residents of Islamberg whom he knew nothing about," Smith continued. "We are a village of doctors, lawyers, engineers, nurses, teachers, social workers, elders, fathers, mothers, sisters, brothers and children. Most of all we are, and have always been and will continue to be, decent American Citizens who have the same liberties and rights as everyone else."
Contact staff writer Zack Peterson at firstname.lastname@example.org or 423-757-6347. Follow him on Twitter @zackpeterson918.