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R.I. man serving terror sentence wants early prison release, cites coronavirus concerns

In this courtroom sketch, David Wright (second from left) and Nicholas Rovinski (right) are depicted standing before Magistrate Judge Donald Cabell with attorney Jessica Hedges during a hearing in June 2015.
In this courtroom sketch, David Wright (second from left) and Nicholas Rovinski (right) are depicted standing before Magistrate Judge Donald Cabell with attorney Jessica Hedges during a hearing in June 2015.Jane Flavell Collins/Associated Press

A Rhode Island man serving a 15-year prison term for conspiring to support ISIS is asking a federal judge to release him to his mother’s home in Warwick, citing health concerns that place him at “unique risk” if he contracts COVID-19 behind bars.

In a motion for compassionate release filed Sunday in US District Court in Boston, lawyers for Nicholas Alexander Rovinski, 29, said he’s currently incarcerated at FCI Danbury in Connecticut, “where one of the first major COVID-19 outbreaks in the federal Bureau of Prisons is ongoing.”

The motion said Rovinski, who pleaded guilty in September 2016 to conspiracy to support ISIS and to committing acts of terrorism transcending national boundaries, has 94 months left on his sentence. He’s seeking “immediate release to begin his lifetime term of supervised release in self-quarantine at his mother’s home in Warwick, Rhode Island,” the filing said.

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The matter’s urgent in light of his health challenges, the motion said.

“Mr. Rovinski has medical, neurological, cognitive, and psychological conditions that place him at unique risk,” the document said. “These conditions make him medically vulnerable and diminish his ability to provide self-care. Mr. Rovinski was born with cerebral palsy, a neurological disorder caused by a brain injury or malformation that occurs when the child’s brain is under development (typically prenatal or shortly after birth). He received extensive services and treatment in childhood from the Shriners Hospitals’ cerebral palsy program. While his visible symptoms now appear 'mild’ to a lay observer, his limitations, detailed in the psychiatric evaluation, are much more profound.”

The motion added that Rovinski has difficulty exercising self-care, which impedes his ability to take certain precautions against the virus.

“For instance, when Mr. Rovinski uses the phone or computer at the prison, he has difficulty processing that he might have been exposed to germs on the keyboard or phone, remembering that he should not touch his face, and remembering to wash his hands as soon as he has access to do so," the motion said. "Mr. Rovinski’s mother reports that he has difficulty maintaining his hygiene, particularly when experiencing a mental health exacerbation. This is corroborated by the BOP medical records.”

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Authorities said in 2016 that Rovinski, David Wright, of Everett, and Wright’s uncle, Usaamah Abdullah Rahim, conspired to support ISIS and communicated with ISIS supporters overseas, and that they tried to recruit other members of a “martyrdom operations cell” that could carry out attacks in the United States.

Assistant US Attorney Stephanie Siegmann told the court when Rovinski pleaded guilty that he met Wright on Facebook in November 2014, and they soon began discussing their “mutual support for [ISIS].”

She said Rovinski began downloading the terrorist group’s propaganda on the Internet, including its online magazine, an instruction manual on how to travel to Syria, and videos of beheadings.

Wright seemed to be a leader who introduced his uncle and Rovinski to items he found online, the prosecutor said.

She also said Wright and Rahim communicated with ISIS leaders overseas, including Junaid Hussain, an English-speaking ISIS propagandist killed in an airstrike in Syria in August 2015.

Siegmann said Rovinski was a willing player in the plot to kill anti-Islam activist Pamela Geller. She said the three men met on a Rhode Island beach in spring 2015 to discuss the plan.

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“All three men planned to kill Ms. Geller, and each of them were planning to play a key role in the beheading,” Siegmann said.

Rahim was killed on June 15, 2015, after he attacked Boston police and FBI agents with a machete in a Roslindale parking lot.

Wright was convicted of related charges in federal court in Boston in October 2017. He was sentenced to 28 years in the can and had one of his five convictions tossed on appeal last year.

The feds hadn’t responded to Rovinski’s compassionate release motion as of late Monday morning, and Judge William G. Young gave them until June 15 to file a written response.

Material from prior Globe stories was used in this report.



Travis Andersen can be reached at travis.andersen@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @TAGlobe.