by Stephan Bisaha, Kansas News Service
Three men were found guilty Wednesday of conspiring to blow up an apartment complex in western Kansas that housed Somali immigrants.
Patrick Stein, Gavin Wright and Curtis Allen were convicted of conspiracy to use a weapon of mass destruction. They were also found guilty of conspiring to violate the housing rights of their intended victims. Wright also was found guilty of lying to the FBI.
The men could face life in prison. Sentencing is set for June 27.
Stein, of Wright, Kansas, and Wright, of Beaver County, Oklahoma, are both 49; Stein, of Liberal, Kansas, is 50.
The jury returned its verdict Wednesday just before 2 p.m., less than a day after beginning deliberations.
“It’s a good day for Garden City, a good day for Kansas and the United States to continue putting the message that our communities will not tolerate such nonsense or criminal behavior,” Garden City Police Chief Michael Utz said after the verdict was announced.
“If individuals hear something or see something they need to say something to stop this kind of activity … so we can prevent a death or mass casualties.”
Adan Keynan, the owner of the African Shop in Garden City, said the verdict should make everyone in the community happy. She worried about the effect on the town if the men had been found not guilty.
“There’s so many things going on in this country … injustices,” she said. “People were worried about (an acquittal). People would have been heartbroken.”
Prosecutors said the three men planned to bomb the Garden City apartment complex, which also housed a mosque, the day after the 2016 presidential election to give America a “forced wake-up call” on dangers they believed were posed by immigrants. They were arrested in October 2016.
“They wanted to send the message that Muslims are not welcome here – not in Garden City, not in Kansas, not in America,” prosecutor Risa Berkower said during the trial.
The key prosecution witness in the case was Dan Day, an FBI informant who recorded hours of conversation with the three men, who were part of the Kansas Security Force militia.
Day said he approached authorities after becoming increasingly concerned about the defendants’ discussions to kill Muslim immigrants.
“They had set their minds on getting rid of all the … Muslims, killing them,” he testified during the trial.
The defense attorneys argued that Day’s recordings of the men talking didn’t reflect a conspiracy, just “banter” and constitutionally protected free speech.
“It is not morally right to hold such hate, but it is not legally wrong,” said James Pratt, Stein’s attorney.
The free speech debate was personified by one witness, a member of a militia whom Stein tried to recruit to his cause.
The witness had previously posted on Facebook that he wanted to kill all Muslims. The prosecution said that the witness was not on trial because he refused Stein’s invitation to join the plot and, unlike the defendants, his words never became actions.
The defense countered that if the witness thought the defendants were going too far, he should have contacted law enforcement.
The defense also argued that Day was not a hero, as the prosecution portrayed him, but a bounty hunter who exploited the defendants and pushed them along at times when the plan seemed to be falling apart. Day was paid more than $32,000 for his work as an informant, according to court testimony.
The attorneys maintained throughout the trial that the FBI manipulated the case against the defendants.
“The FBI created and directed all of this,” said Richard Federico, Allen’s lawyer.
In a news conference after the trial, U.S. Attorney Stephen McAllister said the verdict vindicated the FBI regarding the defense’s accusations.
“Part of that certainly was an attack on the FBI itself,” he said. “And the jury obviously felt this was well done, the evidence was there and they returned guilty verdicts.”
Pratt, Stein’s attorney, said that when Stein suggested backing out of the plan, Day urged him to stay. Multiple audio clips were played throughout the trial, taken from the hundreds of hours of recordings covertly captured by Day. In one clip, the three defendants are heard discussing putting knives and ball bearings into a bomb to maximize the damage.
“The only reason in the world to put ball bearings and razor blades inside a bomb is because you want to kill as many people as you can,” prosecutor Tony Mattivi said.
The plan unraveled when Allen’s ex-girlfriend reported him to police in Liberal, Kansas, for alleged domestic violence. She also told law enforcement the men had weapons and were making explosives. Wright and Stein were arrested soon after.
“Now that they’ve been found guilty, there can be some ease and some peace of mind,” Finney County Sheriff Kevin Bascue said Wednesday. “But I don’t think this community will ever forget.”
Stephan Bisaha, based at KMUW in Wichita, is an education reporter for the Kansas News Service, a collaboration of KMUW, Kansas Public Radio, KCUR and High Plains Public Radio covering health, education and politics. Follow him on Twitter @SteveBisaha. Kansas News Service stories and photos may be republished at no cost with proper attribution and a link back to the original post. Frank Morris of KCUR and Ben Kuebrich of High Plains Public Radio contributed to this report.
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