Federal prosecutors want to imprison a Dayton man found guilty of two terrorism-related charges for 40 years for what essentially was a “thought crime,” according to his attorney.
Laith W. Alebbini, 28, was found guilty in December of conspiracy and attempting to provide material support for ISIS. His bench trial was last year in front of U.S. District Court Judge Walter Rice, who scheduled a sentencing hearing for today.
Federal public defender Thomas Anderson argued in a sentencing memorandum that Alebbini’s motivation was to “fight the murderous Bashar al-Assad regime in Syria” and that Alebbini thought ISIS was the group best capable to do so.
“These isolated statements are simply a tremendous stretch by an over-eager prosecution and not evidence Mr. Alebbini is a monster that the Court needs to incarcerate for four decades,” Anderson wrote. “Mr. Alebbini submits that an appropriate sentence in this case would be a sentence of time served.
“This sentence would take into account Mr. Alebbini’s good character, his lack of criminal record, the seriousness of the offense, and the sentences of similar defendants.”
Prosecutors have not submitted their sentencing memo, and Rice allowed the government to wait to file it until after the sentencing hearing, according to court documents.
Anderson wrote that a pre-sentence investigation report suggested a 30-year sentence but that prosecutors want 20 years on each count for 40 years total, which he argued is substantially more than other defendants who had violent criminal histories.
Anderson said the sentencing calculation for Alebbini’s crimes would be 63 to 78 months if not for a terrorism enhancement that bumps it to 360 to 480 months.
“The government should have to prove to this Court at sentencing that the terrorism enhancement applies beyond a reasonable doubt,” Anderson wrote, saying the added time is “preposterous” and “defies logic” when applied to this case. “The government cannot meet this burden.”
Alebbini was arrested by the FBI on April 26, 2017, at the Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky International Airport, as he approached the TSA security checkpoint.
Prosecutors said Alebbini had tickets for a flight to Jordan with a connection in Istanbul, Turkey, where he planned to get off the plane and instead go from Turkey into Syria in order to join ISIS.
Anderson argued that testimony during the first-ever terrorism trial in the Southern District of Ohio showed Alebbini’s only alleged crime was walking through the airport.
“Had he turned around and walked out, the government said they would not have arrested him that day, nor could they have, because he had done nothing to violate the law,” Anderson wrote.
“The government simply had no evidence that he had contacted anyone from ISIS and certainly no evidence that he was planning any terrorist attack in the United States or abroad.”
Anderson wrote the lack of a reasonable plea offer left Alebbini little choice but to go to trial and forgo a plea for less time due to acceptance of responsibility, “or accept a sentencing recommendation of 30 years for what essentially is a thought crime.
“In a case as this, where the defendant does not dispute the underlying facts, but only disputes what those facts legally mean, acceptance of responsibility should be granted.”