Three hours before they handed down a sentence that could put an Oregon man in prison for life, deliberating jurors sent a note to a trial judge with a question.
Did the man whose fate they were deciding need to have envisioned the specific crime for which he was accused? Or did he merely need to be inclined toward some kind of terroristic act?
Their question more broadly reflects the central debate at the heart of the trial of Mohamed Mohamud, a 21-year-old Somali-American found guilty on Thursday of attempting to bomb a Portland Christmas tree-lighting in November 2010.
Prosecutors were met by a claim of entrapment by Mohamud's defense team, and needed to convince jurors that he was predisposed to terrorism by the time an FBI informant began discussing radical jihad with him over emails.
The judge, Garr King, told jurors Thursday that Mohamud only had to be likely to commit the offense or one like it, and he did not specifically have to be thinking about a bomb at the specific time and place at which he and two undercover FBI agents decided to plant one.
The bomb was a fake, supplied by the agents posing as jihadis.
Jurors were given starkly different portraits of the man who was 17 when the FBI began to focus on him. In the prosecution's description, Mohamud was a powder keg in search of a spark, an angry teenager with the right combination of anti-Western sentiment and a plausible cover story as an Oregon college student.
In the defense's telling, he was confused, broke and suffering under the weight of parental expectations. Gullible and eager to please, he fell into a plot entirely of the FBI's making, following along with men he imagined were like family, Mohamud's attorneys said.
Mohamud sat still as King read the verdict in a slow, deliberate cadence. His parents, who attended every day of the trial, were absent, leaving the seating reserved for family entirely empty throughout the announcement of the verdict.
After the verdict, the FBI asserted again that Mohamud would indeed have found a way to commit a violent act had agents not intervened.
"Mr. Mohamud made a series of choices over a period of several years — choices that were leading him down a path that would have ended in violence," said Greg Fowler, who leads the FBI office in Portland. "His actions showed little regard for the rights and responsibilities that come with being an American or respect for the lives that he was prepared to take."
Mohamud's attorney, Steve Sady, later said an appeal was being planned after the scheduled May 14 sentencing.
"We are disappointed with the verdict," Sady said. "We, obviously, thought he was entrapped."
Prosecutors argued that Mohamud was predisposed to terrorism as early as 15 years old. Mohamud traded emails with an al-Qaida lieutenant later killed in a drone strike. He also told undercover agents he would pose as a college student while preparing for violent jihad.
Mohamud was never called to testify. Instead, the jurors saw thousands of exhibits and heard hours of testimony from friends, parents, undercover FBI agents and experts in counterterrorism, teenage brain development and the psychology of the Muslim world.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Ethan Knight told the jury earlier this week that the decision would be easy. Mohamud pressed a keypad button on a black Nokia cellphone and intended to kill people. Whatever else they might think about the methods of undercover agents or the government's decision to investigate a teenager, the underlying decision was Mohamud's and the motivation was hatred of the West.
Sady had argued that Mohamud wasn't radicalized by online recruiters or friends with jihadist leanings, but rather by a Justice Department hungry for convictions that ignored every caution sign along the way. Sady said undercover agents manipulated Mohamud's faith and plied him with praise and the promise of a life leading other jihadis.
"This case has been a difficult case for the city of Portland. It's been a particularly difficult case for Mohamed Mohamud's community, for his family, for the Somali community," said Amanda Marshall, U.S. attorney for Oregon. "We are hopeful that this will bring closure and healing to all of us here in Portland."
Associated Press writer Steven DuBois contributed to this report
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