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With her son facing life in prison, mother of terror plotter says he was ‘brainwashed’ by ISIS

David Wright could get life in prison for his conviction on five terror-related charges.
David Wright could get life in prison for his conviction on five terror-related charges.WBZ-TV

The mother of an Everett man who plotted to kill Americans on behalf of the Islamic State said in an emotional letter that her son, who faces a possible life sentence, was “brainwashed” by the terror group.

Shahidah J. Muhammad, the mother of 28-year-old David Daoud Wright who said she herself is a Muslim, called the Islamic State “shameful” and an “embarrassment to true believers of Islam.”

Attorneys for Wright filed the letter in US District Court in advance of a hearing in which Wright could get life in prison for his conviction on five terror-related charges.

“David has expressed to me numerous times how completely remorseful, disgusted by his words and saddened [he is],’’ Muhammad wrote in the three-page letter. “Given the chance, he could help others that may find themselves becoming brainwashed by these groups of evil.”

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Wright, according to federal prosecutors, was in contact with an Islamic State recruiter in Syria, actively recruited his uncle and another man to join his terror cell, and plotted the beheading of Pamela Geller, a controversial critic of Islam, from 2014 until his arrest in 2015.

Wright encouraged his uncle, Usaamah Rahim, 26, to arm himself with a fighting knife on June 2, 2015, with the intention of killing any “boys in blue” Rahim encountered, on behalf of the Islamic State. Rahim was fatally shot during a confrontation with Boston police and FBI agents in Roslindale before he attacked anyone.

US Attorney Andrew E. Lelling’s office has asked US District Court Judge William G. Young to impose a life sentence on Wright to send a message to other potential “homegrown violent extremists’’ that they face severe penalties for supporting terrorists like the Islamic State.

“Homegrown violent extremists represent one of the most serious threats to America,’’ prosecutors wrote in court documents. “Wright is a terrorist.’’

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But Wright’s mother — along with an uncle and his defense attorneys — contend that he was an overweight 28-year-old who rarely left his mother’s home, where he spent most of his waking time playing video games or searching the Internet for a way to ease his loneliness.

Wright has a restless intellect that would often lead him to become obsessed with an issue for months on end until another caught his interest, his mother wrote. His interest in the Islamic State, she wrote, led him to turn into an “idiot” who followed a “disgusting group.”

Muhammad painted a portrait of a difficult life for her son. He had little contact with his biological father, who was abusive to her, she said. He often struggled to fit in socially because he was so much heavier and taller than his peers — he wore size 13 shoes and was 6 feet tall in seventh grade, she said.

Searching for a positive male role model for her son, she reached out to the New England Patriots and eventually met Marquise Hill, who met them at a Nike store and paid for a pair of size 15 shoes for Wright, then 6 feet, 4 inches tall. (Wright weighed more than 500 pounds when arrested in 2015.)

“We were all excited,” Muhammad wrote, “that now David had someone to talk to.” A few months later, Hill died in a 2007 jet ski accident.

Muhammad said her son was also a lifesaver, once protecting a man who was being attacked by another armed with a bat. Wright, who was working as a hotel doorman, allowed the bleeding victim inside the lobby while refusing to let the attacker in, she wrote.

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She said she had two children when Wright was a teenager. He was a great caregiver, making sure the children were fed and properly clothed, and safely escorting them to and from school while she was at work, she said.

In 2015, Wright was under investigation by the Joint Terrorism Task Force. Some of his conversations were recorded and played for the jury during his trial. Muhammad heard her son as he expressed support for the Islamic State and its use of homicidal violence to advance its cause.

“The words enraged and disgusted me and [I] couldn’t understand how this was coming from the mouth of David,” she wrote, adding that her Islamic faith “teaches peace, tolerance, treating others with respect and follow laws of the land you live in . . . and worship God.”

Separately, Wright’s attorneys filed a 63-page sentencing memorandum in which they argued Wright should be sentenced to no more than 16 years in prison under both federal sentencing guidelines and as a signal that the justice system recognizes the possibility of rehabilitation.

“A sentence of sixteen years reflects America’s commitment to nuanced and individualized justice. It punishes, but it does not preclude all chance of redemption,’’ Wright’s attorneys wrote. “It highlights the fact that the fundamental principles of fairness and equanimity — principles that the American justice system is built on — are extended to all, even those who have been convicted of opposing them ardently.”

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John R. Ellement can be reached at ellement@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @JREbosglobe.