In a significant ruling, US District Judge Colleen McMahon has ordered the compassionate release of three men known as the “Newburgh Four,” who were involved in a post-9/11 terrorism sting. Judge McMahon described Onta Williams, David Williams, and Laguerre Payen as “hapless, easily manipulated, and penurious petty criminals” caught in an orchestrated scheme by overzealous FBI agents and an unreliable informant. The fourth individual, James Cromitie, did not request release and will complete his sentence in 2030.
The defense attorney for Cromitie, Kerry Lawrence, is considering pursuing similar actions, believing he is entitled to relief for the same reasons as the other defendants. Judge McMahon found the men’s lengthy sentences “unduly harsh and unjust” and pointed to the FBI’s role in radicalising them for a plot to attack New York synagogues and National Guard planes. Concerns were also raised about the mishandling of the case and the defendants’ mental health.
The Newburgh Four were arrested in 2009 in a fake terrorism plot created by the FBI to target impoverished Black men. Originally facing a 25-year mandatory minimum sentence, their terms have now been reduced to time served plus 90 days.
The case shed light on the portrayal of the defendants as “extremely violent men” tied to a Pakistani terrorist group, contributing to concerns about domestic terror threats and Islamophobia. The defense lawyers raised entrapment arguments, stating that an informant manipulated and enticed the defendants into illegal activities.
The ruling brings attention to the use of sting operations and their impact on communities, particularly regarding Islamophobia and the persecution of Muslims. It also raises questions about the FBI’s approach to pre-emptive targeting and prosecuting innocent American Muslims since 9/11.
Source: Middle East Eye