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Akron: 3 men plead guilty in bridge plot case

6:48 PM, Sep 5, 2012   |    comments
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AKRON -- Three men charged in connection with a failed bridge bombing plot have pleaded guilty to charges against them.

Connor Stevens, Douglas Wright and Brandon Baxter entered guilty pleas in Akron federal court this afternoon.

"The government made no concessions. The defendants plead straight up to the indictment," said Steven Dettelbach, the US attorney for the Northern District of Ohio.

The three men plead guilty to conspiracy to use weapons of mass destruction, attempted use of those weapons and malicious use of an explosive device to destroy property used in interstate commerce.

With short haircuts, and clean shaven, the men looked far different at Wednesday's hearing than they did in the mugshot photos from their arrests.

"The bottom line was he wanted to get the least amount of time," said Defense Attorney Terry Gilbert, of his client Connor Stevens.

"You just don't know what a jury is going to do," said John Pyle, who represented Brandon Baxter.

The men known as the Cleveland 5 were arrested with the help of an undercover FBI informant who sold them the fake explosives they used to attempt to blow up the Brecksville-Northfield High Level Bridge.

Defense attorneys say in a perfect world, they'd call this case entrapment by the FBI, but that's a defense that hasn't worked since 9/11.

"Gosh it's evil. It's freaking evil what they did, and I don't know why people don't understand that," said Connor Stevens' mother Gail Stevens of the FBI's involvement.

The FBI says its actions protected the public from terrorists.

"Our techniques utilized were both lawful, suitable and necessary in the prosecution of this case," said FBI Assistant Special Agent in Charge George Crouch.

While these men won't face trial, the details are expected to come out in sentencing, which is scheduled for November 5.

Supporters say they want to hear how these "kids" got in over their heads, and what role the FBI played in this plot.

"We very much want this story to be told," said Gail Stevens.

Depending on which sentencing guidelines Judge David Dowd imposes, the men could face up to life in prison. The explosives charge carries a minimum five year sentence.

Gilbert says he'll argue the minimum sentence for a decision, "Connor Stevens will regret for the rest of his life."

The FBI says the public was never in any danger. The highway bridge crosses over the Cuyahoga Valley National Park between Cleveland and Akron.

Only Joshua Stafford, currently undergoing a psychiatric evaluation, is still facing trial.

In July, a fourth defendant, Anthony Hayne, 35, of Cleveland, pleaded guilty and agreed to testify for federal prosecutors.

The trial in the case had been scheduled to begin September 17.


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