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Three sentenced in synagogue bomb plot

By Christina Romano and Julia Talanova,, CNN
  • James Cromitie, Onta Williams and David Williams get minimum of 25 years
  • They plotted to bomb two Bronx synagogues and attack a military base in New York
  • Prosecutors had been pushing for life in prison for the three men
  • A fourth defendant, Laguerre Payen, was not in courtroom pending evaluation

New York (CNN) -- A federal judge in New York sentenced three men to a minimum 25 years in prison on Wednesday for plotting to detonate bombs at two Bronx synagogues and attack a military base in New York.

James Cromitie, Onta Williams and David Williams were arrested in 2009 after planting what they thought were live explosives. Laguerre Payen, a fourth member of the group who was arrested and tried together with the defendants, was not in the courtroom pending a psychological evaluation.

In August, the jury spent six weeks listening to the testimony and undercover tapes from an FBI informant who posed as a Pakistani militant. After eight days of deliberations in October, the defendants were convicted on seven of eight counts, including conspiracy and attempts to use and acquire weapons of mass destruction and anti-aircraft missiles. Cromitie and Williams were also found guilty of attempting to kill officers and employees of the United States .

In an emotional statement on Wednesday, Cromitie apologized to the people of United States, his family and friends.

"I have never been a terrorist and I never will be a terrorist and everyone here knows that," he said.

David Williams and Onta Williams also apologized to their families and thanked supporters, and Onta apologized to the people of Riverdale.

The prosecutors were pushing for life in prison for the three men.

"What these three defendants did was as serious a set of offenses as is imaginable," said Assistant U.S. Attorney David Raskin in court Wednesday.

Members of the defense team argued during the trial that their clients were victims of entrapment. The original sentencing was postponed from March 24 so the judge could hear defense arguments on the government's usage of a confidential informant in the case.

"The real crime in this case is that the government was allowed to do something like this," Suzanne Brody, attorney for Onta Williams, said after the sentencing. Lawyers for the three men have said they will appeal.

U.S. District Judge Colleen McMahon admonished the defendants for what they tried to do, calling it "beyond despicable," yet she handed down the minimum sentence, calling the defendants "thugs for hire," not religious or political martyrs. She praised the "brilliant lawyering" in the case and the defense for dedication to their clients.

"James Cromitie, David Williams and Onta Williams voluntarily agreed to target synagogues and military planes using what they thought were real bombs and missiles," said Manhattan U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara. "Today's sentences ensure that the defendants will be punished for their actions."