October 18, 2016 - 2:51 PM
TOPEKA, Kan. - A Kansas man was sentenced Tuesday to 15 months in prison for helping a would-be jihadist's unsuccessful plan to plant what they thought was a bomb at an Army base.
Alexander Blair, 29, also was sentenced to two years of supervised probation. He was accused of loaning $100 to 21-year-old John T. Booker Jr. to store what they thought was an explosive device; prosecutors said Booker intended to detonate it outside Fort Riley in northeast Kansas in support of the Islamic State group. The device was a fake bomb built by FBI informants.
Blair pleaded guilty to a conspiracy charge in May, and U.S. District Judge Daniel Crabtree said from the bench that he regretted that federal anti-terrorism laws required him to treat Blair as if Blair had multiple previous criminal conventions despite Blair's previously "spotless" record. The judge also said he concluded — as Blair's attorney had argued — that an unusual genetic personality condition made Blair "susceptible" to manipulation by Booker.
Prosecutors had pushed for the maximum five-year prison sentence, but Crabtree said it would be too harsh for Blair's relatively small role in the conspiracy. Yet the judge also rejected the defence's request for five years' probation, saying it would not be enough punishment when Blair "understood the connection" between his loan and Booker's attempt to bomb the Army base.
"The sad truth is that Mr. Blair pleaded guilty to joining a conspiracy that had a catastrophic consequence," Crabtree said.
Blair's family later posted a statement online saying it is "heartbroken." The statement said Blair "in no way deserves what is coming" and could be seriously harmed by time in prison.
Crabtree said he will recommend that Blair be confined at the federal prison system's medical centre in Springfield, Missouri, both because of his genetic condition, Williams syndrome, and to make it easier for family to visit. As Blair left the courtroom, he said, "I think it's fair."
"He's a great judge, and I hope not to be in his courtroom ever again," Blair said.
Booker, who is also from Topeka, pleaded guilty in February to two felonies under an agreement calling for him to serve 30 years in prison, but he hasn't been sentenced. He was arrested in April 2015 outside Fort Riley, about 60 miles west of Topeka, as he was trying to arm what he thought was a 1,000-pound explosive device.
Blair met Booker in January 2015, at the Islamic Center mosque in Topeka. In a court filing, Blair's attorney said Blair was interested in Islam because he did not feel like he was "fully part" of the Christian congregations he had previously joined.
Williams syndrome is marked by developmental delays and a compulsion to connect with others while being unable to process social cues. Advocates for people with the genetic condition wrote to Crabtree, urging mercy in sentencing.
Blair's attorney said in a court filing last month that Blair's social maturity is "similar to an 11- or 12-year-old" and issued a statement after the sentencing saying that Blair had been "unable to appreciate the gravity of his conduct."
Blair's attorney also argued that Blair would be vulnerable to physical and sexual exploitation in prison and might become violent to survive.
In a letter to the judge in August, Blair wrote that he "never wanted any harm or damage done to my country." A forensic psychiatrist reported in April that Blair did not believe Booker would attempt to bomb Fort Riley.
His father, Tom, said after the sentencing that he appreciated letters of support for his son sent to Crabtree, adding, "Alex is not a terrorist, nor has he ever been a terrorist."
Federal prosecutors argued that neither Blair's disorder nor his limited role in Booker's plot negate statements Blair made to FBI agents about knowing the specifics of Booker's plan and Booker's desire to kill as many soldiers as possible. Crabtree said the evidence shows Blair knew what Booker intended.
Booker plotted the bombing with two confidential FBI sources. During a court hearing in February, Booker's attorney said Booker had been diagnosed with bipolar disorder and was taking medication.
Follow John Hanna on Twitter at https://twitter.com/apjdhanna .
News from © The Associated Press, 2016