Defense asks for 15-year sentence for Columbia man who supported ISIS

1 month 1 week 3 days ago Wednesday, February 19 2020 Feb 19, 2020 Wednesday, February 19, 2020 2:43:00 PM CST February 19, 2020 in News
By: Cory Johnson, KOMU 8 Digital Producer

COLUMBIA - A public defender representing a Columbia man who plotted a terrorist attack has asked for a 15-year sentence.

28-year-old Robert Hester pleaded guilty to aiding terrorists after making plans to launch a "murderous terrorist bombing and gunfire attack" with people he believed to be members of ISIS.

Hester was arrested in February 2017 after arriving at an arranged meeting with an undercover law enforcement agent.

An affidavit said an investigation started when the FBI was alerted to social media posts Hester made supporting ISIS.

Hester's public defender, Troy Stabenow, requested the 15-year sentence and lifetime supervision in a memorandum filed Tuesday.

Stabenow said Hester turned to excessive alcohol and drug use as a teen after being abused and both of his parents imprisoned.

After graduating high school, Hester enlisted in the military but was honorably discharged before training. Defense counsel said Hester turned to Islamic extremism as a means of acceptance after two men introduced him to the beliefs.

Stabenow wrote that Hester planned the attacks to please the undercover FBI agent he idolized and was hesitant to carry-out violence until the agent pressured him.

"Unlike other cases of this type counsel has found, this is the only one in which a federal agent threatened the family of the defendant, and this occurred before Robert committed to any act of support," Stabenow said.
The defense said Hester has shown remorse for his actions in the three year period he's practiced sobriety while imprisoned.

Federal prosecutors said the public is lucky the FBI intercepted Hester.

"While law enforcement found him first, others seeking the same goals could have just as easily reached out instead, resulting in tragedy," wrote Assistant U.S. Attorney Brian Casey.
After making initial contact, Hester soon told the undercover agent he wanted to attack "critical infrastructure" like federal buildings and oil production and suggested an attack on a military base "because he knew how to enter it," prosecutors say.

Casey wrote that FBI agents offered Hester to back-out of any potential plans numerous times but he "repeatedly reaffirmed his commitment" to carrying out an attack that would have more impact than "three or four guys...shooting up somewhere."

In one of the final meetings with the agents, Hester bought supplies he believed would be used to make bombs, including roofing nails to serve as bomb shrapnel, and researched storage facilities to store supplies.

Prosecutors requested a maximum 20-year sentence.

Hester will be sentenced in a Kansas City federal courtroom on March 4.

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