A federal jury Wednesday found David Daoud Wright guilty of plotting to kill Americans on behalf of the Islamic State, capping a terrorism conspiracy trial that pitted free speech rights against security interests.
Wright, 28, faces a potential life sentence after he was convicted on all five of the charges against him: conspiring to support a terrorist organization; conspiring to commit acts of terrorism beyond national boundaries; conspiracy to commit obstruction of justice; and two counts of obstruction of justice.
“Mr. Wright is a terrorist, an ISIS supporter and recruiter who intended to wage war against the United States,” Acting US Attorney William D. Weinreb said after the verdict at a news conference at the John Joseph Moakley Federal Courthouse in Boston, where he was flanked by FBI agents and the prosecutor in the case, B. Stephanie Siegmann.
Authorities said Wright, who lived with his mother in Everett, disseminated violent videos and other ISIS propaganda online, recruited for the terrorist organization, and plotted the death of blogger Pamela Geller, a controversial critic of Islam, with his uncle, Usaamah Rahim, and a third man.
In June 2015, Rahim, 26, was fatally shot by authorities in a Roslindale parking lot after he advanced on them with a machete. Wright was arrested later that day.
On Wednesday, Wright showed no emotion as the verdicts were read. His lawyer, Jessica Hedges, said she will appeal his convictions.
“We are disappointed in the verdicts, especially heartbroken for David and his family,” she said. “But we, along with David, honor the process. We are not finished.”
During her closing arguments Tuesday, Hedges accused prosecutors of exploiting “the fear that ISIS inspired,” and said that Wright had the right under the First Amendment to collect propaganda, no matter how disturbing, and disseminate it.
In an unusual move, Wright took the stand in his own defense last week, describing himself as an overweight, unhappy man who pretended to be an ISIS combatant in a desperate bid for attention.
“I said a lot of fantastical things about what I intended, where I wanted to go, where I wanted to travel,” Wright told jurors. “It was never real for me.”
The five men and seven women on the jury spent six hours reviewing nearly four weeks of testimony.
Before they were seated, they were screened for bias through a questionnaire that asked them about their views on Islam or if they or someone close to them had ever been a victim of terrorism.
Federal prosecutors said Wright, Rahim, and Nicholas Rovinski of Warwick, R.I., had initially planned to kill Geller for organizing a Prophet Muhammad cartoon contest.
But early on June 2, 2015, Rahim called Wright to tell him he wanted to kill police officers, whom he also considered enemies of Islam, according to prosecutors. In a phone conversation recorded by the FBI, Wright was heard encouraging Rahim to take action and seek martyrdom.
On Wednesday, authorities said that people like Wright, who absorb propaganda they find online, are becoming an increasing concern in the fight against terrorism.
“They start believing that,” said FBI Assistant Special Agent in Charge Peter Kowenhoven. “Look at what happened on June 2.”
Kowenhoven dismissed the portrayal of Wright as a lonely man trolling the Internet for attention. He pointed out that in the months before Rahim’s death, Wright researched tranquilizers, firearms, knives, and bomb-making components.
“Wright was a full-fledged soldier of ISIS,” Kowenhoven said. “We can all sleep better now knowing that David Wright, a person who wanted to kill in the name of ISIS, will no longer be free to walk the streets,”
Weinreb declined to say whether he would seek a life sentence for Wright, who is scheduled to be sentenced on Dec. 19.
Kowenhoven encouraged people to report loved ones they believe are being recruited by terrorist organizations, which rely heavily on social media to lure followers.
Asked how people who come forward can be assured their loved one won’t be prosecuted or imprisoned, Kowenhoven said the federal government has resources to help people before they are radicalized and act criminally.
Parents need to contact a spiritual adviser, school officials or someone in law enforcement before their children act on what they are seeing online, he said.
“By the time we get it on our own, it’s usually too late. They’ve already done something in the radicalization process.”