- Associated Press - Friday, March 28, 2014

COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) - A failed anti-Wall Street plot to bomb a highway bridge near Cleveland had an element of terrorism to it, a federal appeals court ruled Friday in upholding the sentences of four men in the case, including the addition of extra time because of the terrorism factor.

The court also said Akron federal judge David Dowd correctly added time to the sentence of defendant Douglas Wright as the group’s leader.

The ruling by a panel of three judges unanimously upheld the 11 ½-year sentence for Wright, of Indianapolis; the more than 9-year sentence of Brandon Baxter, of suburban Cleveland; and the 8-year sentence of Connor Stevens, of Berea.

The panel ruled 2-1 to uphold the 6-year sentence of Anthony Hayne, of Cleveland.

The terrorism element added about five years to each man’s sentence, while the leadership element added one to two additional years to Wright’s sentence, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Cleveland, which prosecuted the cases.

The defendants, who all pleaded guilty, were accused of plotting to blow up a busy highway bridge over the Cuyahoga Valley National Park between Cleveland and Akron.

An informant who secretly recorded conversations helped FBI agents foil the bomb plot, and an undercover agent supplied the would-be bridge-bombers with fake plastic explosives, authorities have said.

The government described the suspects as self-proclaimed anarchists who acted out of anger against corporate America and the government.

The cumulative evidence in the case justifies the judge’s use of the “terrorism enhancement” permitted in federal sentencing rules, according to Friday’s ruling by Judge Guy Cole of the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Cincinnati.

That includes the bridge-bombing plot, a plan to engage in violent protests in Chicago, and the defendants’ consideration of bombing two government buildings, the ruling said.

“They expected that the government would respond to the bridge bombing_that the bombing would ‘influence or affect’ the government_by taking new security measures,” Cole wrote.

Likewise, evidence showed that Wright encouraged the group to come to a consensus on their plan, which at one point consisted of targeting a cargo ship by detonating underwater explosives as it approached, Cole said.

“Wright acted as coordinator and sought the participation and agreement of the others,” Cole said.

Cole disagreed with applying the terrorism element to Hayne, calling him a latecomer to the plot who “did not participate in the conversations evincing an intent to affect the conduct of the government.”

Tony Vegh, an attorney representing Anthony Wright, called the decision disappointing. Paul Nelson, a federal public defender representing Stevens, declined comment. Messages were left for attorneys for Baxter and Hayne.

A fifth defendant, Joshua Stafford, has appealed his jury conviction last year where he served as his own attorney. He was sentenced to 10 years in prison.

Steven Dettelbach, the U.S. Attorney in Cleveland, praised the court for agreeing the sentences were deserved because of the terrorism element.


Andrew Welsh-Huggins can be reached on Twitter at https://twitter.com/awhcolumbus.

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