WICHITA — Somali refugees in Garden City said they now are fearful for their safety or to go out at night after authorities revealed men were plotting in 2016 to blow up a complex where Somali Muslims live and worship in that city.
On Friday in U.S. District Court in Wichita, the three men convicted earlier of the conspiracy received sentences of 25, 26, and 30 years in federal prison. U.S. District Court Judge Eric Melgren did not follow the guideline and the government's recommendation for life sentences. Curtis Allen and Gavin Wright are in their early 50s and Patrick Stein will turn 50 next month, and all will be in their mid to upper 70s when they are released.
Videos of victim impact statements from some Somalis played at the start of the sentencing phase Friday. The three were convicted in a joint trial in 2018, but Melgren presided over a separate sentencing hearing for each man during an all-day session Friday.
"It affected me personally," said one Somali man. "I didn't feel safe where I was going to worship," he said.
"Am I going to be OK?" said a woman. "I want to know that I'm going to be OK."
"I was happy when I came to Garden City," said another woman. She's learned English, goes to school, learned to drive and is an American citizen now. "We need peace; we need life. We have dreams," she said.
Garden City Chief of Police Michael Utz made the 200-mile trip to Wichita to deliver a statement in person.
Garden City is very diverse and as a result, he said, "we thrive." He learned in October 2016 of the plot to blow up 312 W. Mary St. It's a heavy traffic area, used by school buses. It would have been a catastrophe, with hundreds or thousands killed or seriously injured, he said.
"In our community, hatred is not welcome," Utz said, urging the judge hand down the maximum sentences available.
Planning for the bombing took months, with the conspirators unaware a paid informant for the FBI was taping conversations. They were motivated by an extraordinary hatred of the refugees' race, Muslim religion, and national origin, Melgren noted.
"'We want them to be praying and to meet Allah at the same time,'" a prosecuting attorney said Allen said.
They talked about packing the bomb with razor blades and ball bearings to maximize the damage. Allen penned a manifesto, and wanted to use mass murder to send a political message, the prosecutor said.
Stein stood out to Melgren as the most enthusiastic of the trio. Even after Allen was arrested, Stein wanted to move forward with the bomb plot, prosecutors said.
Stein would end up with the longest sentence of the three.
Stein grew up in southwest Kansas, and Melgren referred to Stein's "plethora of siblings." At least a dozen family and friends, some living in the Wright area, attended the sentencing. Some family and friends had submitted letters to the judge, but none spoke in court. "We thought it was better," said Stein's mother, Hattie Stein.
She had tears as Patrick Stein addressed the courtroom. He offered apologies to his family for the hell he put them through -- the harassment of the press, the rumors and lies, the financial burden. "I take full responsibility," he said. "Nobody forced me to do any of it," he said. He called out their names and said, "From the bottom of my heart and the deepest part of my soul, I'm so sorry."
He asked the judge for leniency, and his attorneys suggested a 15-year term in prison, not life without parole.
Stein had no significant criminal history, Melgren said, but clearly he was the chief cheerleader. "He was the one who expressed the most passion," the judge said, and he was "filled with virulent hatred" on the recordings, he said.
"Even today I hear no remorse from him," Melgren said, about his actual plan to commit mass murder.
Stein was given 30 years on the count of conspiracy to use a weapon of mass destruction, and 10 years, to run concurrently, for a conspiracy to "injure, oppress, threaten, and intimidate the residents of 312 W. Mary St." He will be on supervised release for ten years after he is released from prison.
Hattie Stein said her son has been retaining fluid and they haven't figured out the medical problem, and Stein's attorneys requested he be sent to a place with a medical facility.
Curtis Allen and his twin brother, Kevin Allen, now of the Wichita area, grew up on a farm and graduated from Ashland High School. They then joined the U.S. Marine Corps. Curtis Allen was different after he returned from Iraq, and his attorneys spoke of post-traumatic stress.
The prosecuting attorney said Allen had not repented, shown remorse or accepted responsibility. He is "absolutely entrenched" in the views he held as a co-conspirator, the attorney said.
"They don't have the same culpability," Allen's attorney argued, making a distinction between Stein and Allen.
Kevin Allen was unable to finish his statement to the court, so an attorney read it. Curtis has "a very strong personality" and suffered from narcolepsy, his twin had written. "Something about him changed after Iraq," Kevin Allen wrote.
Curtis had difficulty holding down a regular job, was forgetful, and spent a lot of time online, Kevin Allen wrote. He did not think Curtis would have been capable of carrying out the plot. "The crime he has been convicted of is horrible," Kevin Allen also wrote.
Curtis Allen "loves his country," his attorney said. "That has been a constant throughout his life," the attorney said, suggesting a prison sentence of 10 years.
Curtis Allen told the judge how sorry he was "for the reason we're here today." He said he was "just ashamed" of himself, and then, emotional, was unable to finish reading the statement. His attorney picked it up. Allen said he should never have got involved in the plot. "I'm smarter than that," he said. If he could go back, he would.
Allen faced the same two counts as Stein, and Melgren sentenced him to a lesser sentence of 25 years in prison with 10 years of supervised release.
Curtis Allen has reconciled with a grown daughter who lives in Texas and he has two grandsons he has yet to meet. He is requesting to be sent to a prison in Texas.
Some of the planning for the attack took place at Gavin Wright's mobile home business in Liberal. His counsel maintained that Wright came late to the planning, but Melgren said the plotting started in June and Wright was involved in conversations in July 2016.
"In for a penny, in for a pound," Melgren said. Wright offered his business for the sorts of discussions that could only have taken place at a private place, Melgren said.
Wright's attorneys sought a 10-year sentence for him. Melgren, though, voiced concern about what he didn't hear when Wright spoke Friday.
"I want to apologize to the court," Wright said. "That's not who I am," he said. He said he was embarrassed. He also apologized to the people of 312 W. Mary St.
Melgren thought there was a lack of remorse and that Wright was still in denial "that he was doing these things."
Melgren had planned to give Stein the longest sentence, Allen a shorter one, and Wright, the shortest one.
"But I'm not able to do that," Melgren said.
Wright was given 25 years for the same charges that also applied to Stein and Allen, plus an extra year in prison for a third count, of lying to the FBI. He will face 10 years of supervised release when he leaves prison. His family wants him assigned to a prison near southwest Kansas.
Melgren was unmoved by defense attorneys' claims that the men were influenced by right-wing commentators on television and radio, and that they were reading 2016 presidential campaign rhetoric online.
"Millions of people listen to the stuff," Melgren said.
"The left has incredible attacks on conservative Christians," Melgren also said.
Melgren regarded the 1968 presidential election year as a more contentious one than 2016.
As for Russian interference on social media, Melgren said interference in elections is "reprehensible," but the "Russians, frankly, were doing nothing more than political parties."
Melgren did not impose a fine on any man, but all three must pay $100 per count -- $200 each for Allen and Stein and $300 for Wright -- to a crime victims' fund.
Rulings in the terrorism case are expected to be appealed.