Charges including attempted murder of government officials and trying to provide support to a terrorist organization
Kevin Grasha | Cincinnati – DECEMBER 5, 2016
Update, 2:15 p.m.: Christopher Lee Cornell was sentenced to 30 years in prison for his unfulfilled terror plot to attack the U.S. Capitol and kill President Barack Obama during the 2015 State of the Union address.
Cornell, 22, pleaded guilty in August to charges including attempted murder of government officials and trying to provide support to a terrorist organization.
Moments after the U.S. District Court in Cincinnati sentence, Cornell, of Green Township, said the courts are a “rigged a– system” and that “Allah’s in control, not the judge.”
That, despite writing in a March 31, 2016 letter to his family: “I hope they can soon see the change in me, understand me, give me the help I need and allow me to get a second chance. I’m not a terrorist, a criminal or a bad person, I’m just a kid who suffered from problems, that made some bad decisions and stupid mistakes.”
Previous reporting: Christopher Lee Cornell’s plot to attack the U.S. Capitol last year was the product of a lonely and depressed 20-year-old with the mind of a teenager who was trying to impress an FBI informant, his attorneys say.
The Green Township man, they say, was easily influenced by the Islamic State propaganda and conspiracy theories he read online.
“Chris lived a fantasy life behind a computer screen,” attorney Candace Crouse wrote in a memorandum filed in advance of Cornell’s sentencing Monday in U.S. District Court in Cincinnati. Prosecutors have asked Judge Sandra Beckwith to send him to prison for 30 years.
Cornell, according to the memorandum, “has gone through dramatic changes in personality, mindset and worldview” during the nearly two years he has been in custody since his arrest. He was held at the Boone County Jail before being transferred in March of this year to a federal prison in Terre Haute, Indiana. He has spent much of his time in solitary confinement.
Now 22, Cornell became a target of federal authorities in 2014, when according to court documents he began expressing support on Twitter for the Islamic State terror group. He talked about waging “jihad under our own orders.” He celebrated beheadings and terror attacks. And he ultimately plotted with the unnamed informant to travel to Washington, D.C. and attack the U.S. Capitol during President Barack Obama’s January 2015 State of the Union address.
But Cornell had never handled or fired a gun, the memorandum says. Cornell believed he and the informant would somehow be able to escape and go into hiding. The informant, it says, was “his only friend besides his brother and his cat.”
He told the informant he wanted to create an Islamic State territory in the U.S. – just the two of them.
“His ideas were not rationally possible or remotely realistic,” the memorandum says. “Chris created a character, with a different name, in a fantasy where this character was somebody in the world.”
Cornell had invented a Muslim name, which he used for more than a year after his arrest in January 2015.
His mindset began to change, the memorandum says, earlier this year while in solitary confinement at the Indiana federal prison. He was transferred to that facility after using a jail computer intended for legal research to post comments on a website, giving details about the man he believed was the informant.
“Chris admits that it gave him a lot of time to think about what he did, and he finally began having hope for the future,” the memorandum says.
The memorandum includes sections from several of Cornell’s letters to his family. In the letters, Cornell says he needs to have Islam in his life but rejects the ideas he once spewed on Twitter and in conversations with the informant.
In a Feb. 15, 2016 letter: “I never wanted any of this. This way of life is not fun nor is it cool, but it is stressful and humiliating. At the start of this…I thought it was fun and cool because of all the attention I was receiving, but that was until reality set in.”
In a March 31, 2016 letter: “I hope they can soon see the change in me, understand me, give me the help I need and allow me to get a second chance. I’m not a terrorist, a criminal or a bad person, I’m just a kid who suffered from problems, that made some bad decisions and stupid mistakes.”
In an April 4, 2016 letter: “Those stupid terrorist(s) and their ideologies are twisted. They are out killing innocent people and ruining families. They are brainwashing innocent…kids with hate-filled propaganda…and are using those kids to carry out their delusional agenda.”
At Monday’s sentencing, a psychologist who diagnosed Cornell with scyhizotypal personality disorder is expected to testify that Cornell’s maturity level was that of a teenager. That immaturity, the memorandum says, combined with mental issues, an unstable home life growing up and a desire to impress the informant “played a key role in” Cornell’s decisions.
The psychologist said in a report there is evidence Cornell “has a propensity to distort reality.”
Cornell pleaded guilty in August to charges including attempted murder of government officials and trying to provide support to a terrorist organization.