Can 'lone wolf' terror suspect claim entrapment? It will be hard to prove.
The FBI reportedly decided that Jose Pimentel, the 'lone wolf' terror suspect arrested by the NYPD, was not a credible threat. But translating that into an entrapment defense will not be easy, experts say.
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However, if Pimentel’s website is more about religion or philosophy then terrorism, it will be harder for the government to show a predisposition to commit violence, says Frederick Sosinsky, a criminal defense attorney in New York.Skip to next paragraph
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“The fact that he may have an intellectual or religious curiosity about certain things does not in and of itself establish predisposition,” says Mr. Sosinsky, who has defended people accused of terrorism. “We don’t generally seek to punish individuals for their thoughts, however uncomfortable those thoughts may make us.”
Sosinsky says Pimentel’s attorney might want to try to discover why federal law enforcement officials had doubts about the sincerity of Pimentel’s beliefs or his inclination to act. “The legal justification for seeking such information and documentation is that they would exculpate the defendant by casting doubt on his actual intentions,” he says.
Getting that information won’t be easy, says Stanley Twardy, a former federal prosecutor and now a defense attorney at Day Pitney in Stamford, Ct. “The FBI may have said this guy’s a bad guy but not a terrorist,” says Mr. Twardy. “But, you just can’t call the FBI and ask them why did you not find this guy credible.”
Twardy says Pimentel’s lawyer might want to try to ask for a subpoena for any documents from the FBI, such as emails. “Whether anything would be admissible is another question,” he says, “it must be relevant to the charges.”
Fordham’s Greenberg says she would want to ask the FBI at what point it passed on pursuing a case against Pimentel. Did the FBI decide the confidential informant was too actively involved?
“I would want to know who suggested the weapons, who suggested the targets,” she says.
However, some lawyers believe it will be difficult to get a state judge to allow the defense to question the FBI.
“I think that a judge will not be inclined to allow the defense to introduce questions about the FBI since it is in the nature of opinion,” says Robert Mintz, a former federal prosecutor now with the law firm McCarter & English in Newark. “There can be many reasons why the federal government deferred to the state to prosecute a case, it does not necessarily imply they did not believe the case had merit.”
If the Pimentel case goes to trial, it will focus more attention on the issue of “lone wolves,” individuals acting alone to cause harm.
“People with the scariest plans for destroying the world tend to be lone wolves,” says Jessica Stern, a Harvard professor and author of “Denial: a Memoir of Terror.”
“They often have elaborate and horrifying fantasies about what they would like to do.”
She says she found especially troubling the article that Pimentel is alleged to have linked to. “It was designed to boost and excite those individuals who live on the edge and have these destructive fantasies,” says Ms. Stern. “The whole issue was inspiring this kind of behavior.”
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