Three men who were part of Occupy Cleveland and who were described by authorities as domestic terrorists, pleaded guilty Wednesday to trying to blow up the Ohio 82 bridge that spans the Cuyahoga River Valley in April.
Brandon Baxter, 20, of Lakewood, Connor Stevens, 20, of Berea, and Douglas Wright, 26, of Indianapolis entered their pleas and will be sentenced Nov. 5 and 6. Prosecutors said Wednesday that they will ask for life terms in prison. Defense lawyers will ask for five years.
They had been scheduled to go to trial Sept. 18 before U.S. District Judge David Dowd in Akron. The pleas mean the suspects will drop their intended defenses of entrapment. Their attorneys had claimed that an FBI informant walked them through the crime.
A fourth suspect, Anthony Hayne, 35, of Cleveland, pleaded guilty earlier in July and he cooperated with prosecutors against his compatriots. A fifth suspect, Joshua Stafford, 23, of Cleveland, is undergoing psychiatric evaluation.
The five men, self-proclaimed anarchists according to the authorities, were charged with planting what they believed were actual bombs at the Ohio 82 bridge that spans the national park between Brecksville and Sagamore Hills Township.
FBI agents reported that they foiled the plot with the help of an informant by supplying the men with fake plastic explosives and arresting the five on April 30 as they tried to detonate the explosives with a cellphone. The defense is claiming that the informant “cultivated” the defendants by buying them marijuana and alcohol and “nutured” the men into the plot, according to Terry Gilbert, attorney for Connor Stevens. The attorneys for Wright and Baxter echoed this sentiment. John Pyle, the attorney for Baxter, said the “men couldn’t blow their own noses, let alone blow up a bridge”.
Authorities dismissed this claim, noting the suspects selected the site to attack, bought what they believed were explosives in a hotel room and dug holes at the foot of the bridge to place the devices. He also said they went to a restaurant and tried to set off the bomb with a cellphone.
Authorities said the public was never in danger because the alleged “explosives” were inoperable and controlled by an undercover agent.
Supporters of the men, including some members of Occupy Cleveland were in attendance outside the courthouse. Some supporters wore shirts that said “Expose Entrapment”. Stevens’ brother, Colin, read a statement in supporting the suspects. He called the case “a complex and deeply disturbing picture of political oppression by the state.”
Via Newsnet5 -
About 50 members of Occupy Cleveland showed up at the courthouse in Cleveland to support the suspects charged in connection with an alleged plot to blow up a northeast Ohio bridge.
The five suspects — 21-year-old Connor Stevens, 24-year-old Joshua Stafford (aka “Skully”), 26-year-old Douglas Wright (aka “Cyco), 20-year-old Brandon Baxter (aka “Skabby”) and 37-year-old Anthony Hayne (aka “Tony” & “Billy”) – pleaded not guilty during their arraignment Monday morning.
The suspects had the charges — conspiracy and attempted use of explosive material to damage physical property affecting interstate commerce — read to them in open court.
After the arrests were made, Occupy Cleveland said the five suspects were “associated with the group” but they were “in no way representing or acting on behalf of Occupy Cleveland.” The city of Cleveland decided to not renew the group’s permit a day after the arrests, but did not say if the decision was related to the bomb plot. Facebook pages showed the supects’ involvement with Occupy Cleveland, which some listed as their “employer”. Douglas Wright, the alleged ringleader, was known for his quiet commitment to Occupy Cleveland, according to the National Review. Brandon Baxter had previously been arrested an Occupy protest and spoken to the Cleveland Plain Dealer about Occupy. He also was involved with organizing at Occupy Cleveland, including organizing the “Occupy the Heart Festival”. Anthony Hayne was on the lease of the Occupy Cleveland warehouse that they had been renting. See more on connections here and here.
The FBI said the five self-proclaimed anarchists came up with a plan to blow up the Route 82 bridge over the Cuyahoga National Forest in Brecksville. They were arrested after allegedly pushing a button they thought would detonate a C4 bomb placed at the base of the bridge on April 30. The bomb was planned to go off during early morning rush hour on May 1 to coincide with “May Day”. An estimated 13, 000 people drive over the bridge each day
An undercover informant working with the FBI had provided the group with an inert bomb. Wright met the informant at an Occupy event. Baxter’s attorney claims the informant has a long criminal record and “coached the suspects”.
Via ONN – The Cleveland office of the FBI held a Tuesday morning news conference to detail arrests and charges filed relating to a national security issue.
Steven Dettelbach, United States Attorney for the Northern District of Ohio, and Stephen Anthony, Special Agent in Charge of the Cleveland FBI office,provided details about the local connection to this national security case.
A Justice Department official said that the five men are self-described anarchists and are not tied to international terrorism.
The department said that the five men were taken into custody as part of an undercover operation by law enforcement authorities.
Federal agents said that the alleged suspects were conspiring to use explosives to destroy a bridge near Cleveland.
The FBI’s Cleveland office is displaying a photo of the apparent bridge in question.
It’s the Cuyahoga Valley Scenic Railroad bridge in Brecksville.
All five were reportedly associated with Occupy at some point.