A federal jury Tuesday began deliberations in the trial of David Wright, an Everett man accused of plotting to kill Americans for ISIS and enlisting the support of his uncle, who was fatally shot by police in 2015 after he attacked them with a knife.
Jurors must weigh whether Wright, 28, intended to kill and hurt people in the name of Islamic terrorism or if the hundreds of hours he spent on the Internet between 2014 and 2015 espousing the teachings of ISIS were merely an escape from a bleak reality.
In 2015, Wright was unemployed and obese and living in his mother’s house. From his computer, prosecutors said he disseminated violent videos and other propaganda from the Islamic State, recruited for the terrorist organization, and plotted the death of Pamela Geller, a controversial critic of Islam, with his uncle, Usaamah Rahim, and a man Wright met online.
“ ‘Oh America, your days are numbered. We have begun plotting and working and there is no forewarning which can prepare you,’ ” Wright allegedly wrote in an online manifesto in May 2015, one month before Rahim was killed in a Roslindale parking lot.
After reading that passage, Assistant US Attorney B. Stephanie Siegmann told jurors in a Boston courtroom that “he intended to wage war on the United States.”
In her closing, Jessica Hedges, Wright’s lawyer, warned jurors not to be manipulated by what she described as prosecutors’ scare tactics.
She had argued that Wright had fooled himself into believing that he and his uncle were indulging in a fantasy.
“What the government has done in this case, over and over, is exploit the fear that ISIS inspired,” Hedges said to the jury. “You gave an oath that when you felt those feelings you would put them aside.”
While unnerving, Wright’s posts on Facebook and other social media sites and his dissemination of violent videos are protected speech under the First Amendment, Hedges said.
“That is what makes America, America,” Hedges said. “We can speak our minds without being called criminals.”
Wright is charged with conspiring to support a terrorist organization, conspiring to commit acts of terrorism, conspiracy to commit obstruction of justice and two counts of obstruction of justice.
During his instructions to the jury, US District Court Judge William G. Young explained that the prosecution must prove Wright intended for his words to lead to the deaths of Americans. “He doesn’t have the right to plot to kill people,” Young said. “The First Amendment doesn’t even speak to that.”
Yet jurors must acquit Wright of conspiracy to provide material support to a terrorist group if they do not believe prosecutors proved he did more than simply collect and disseminate ISIS propaganda, Young said. “You might find some of that material revolting, disgusting, horrific,” Young said. “He has a right to collect that material. If there is evidence that he disseminated it, he’s got that right.”
Among the strongest pieces of evidence against Wright was a recording of an early morning conversation between him and Rahim on June 2, 2015, the day Rahim was killed.
That was when Rahim called to say he planned to go after “boys in blue.”
“Do you remember how emotional Rahim was during that call? How troubled he was? He broke down and cried several times,” Siegmann said. “Rather than dissuade his uncle from taking actions that would inevitably result in his death, he encouraged him.”
During that conversation, Wright told Rahim to reset his computer so his hard drive would be erased.
But Hedges noted that Wright did not try to flee or destroy his own computers for two hours after that conversation. That was because Wright never took his uncle seriously, believing they were only pretending to be ISIS combatants, Hedges said.
It was only when Wright learned from a relative that Rahim had been shot by police that “reality crashed” all around him, Hedges said.
He reset his computer, a desperate bid to erase the files on ISIS and terrorism activities he had collected over the past year, Hedges said, an unusual admission that likely gave the jury what it needed to convict Wright on one of the obstruction of justice counts against him. The maximum penalty for obstruction of justice is 20 years. Wright faces between 20 years to life in prison if convicted on the terrorism charges.
Hedges said Wright’s inability to stop his uncle was “a moral failing,” not a criminal act.
Last week, Wright took the stand in his own defense, saying he was never serious about following the Islamic State. It was an unusual move for a defendant, but Wright wanted to explain his actions, Hedges said.
But Siegmann dismissed his testimony as an expedient lie meant to spare himself a long prison sentence. “Two years [later] the defendant has made up this ridiculous story to beat the charge,” she told jurors. “To deceive you.”Maria Cramer can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @GlobeMCramer.