NEW: Shannon Conley, 19, receives prison sentence that prosecutors requested
NEW: Judge weights "what is it that will cause others to stop" endorsing jihad
NEW: "I do not believe I am a threat to society," Conley pleads before sentencing
A federal judge gave a four-year prison sentence Friday to a 19-year-old Colorado woman who admitted guilt in wanting to become an ISIS bride and participate in its jihad in the Mideast.
Shannon Maureen Conley is one of the first Americans to be sentenced for conspiracy to support ISIS and received a sentence that was also recommended by prosecutors seeking to send a message of deterrence.
Though the judge initially cited how Conley needs psychiatric care, he sided with prosecutors in the end.
“What is it that will cause others to stop” in the future, Judge Raymond P. Moore said during sentencing.
Before sentencing, Conley wept as she read a statement saying, “It was after arrest that I learned the truth about the ISIS that I was taught to respect.”
She talked about her ongoing journey into Islam.
“Since my incarceration I have had a chance to read the entire Quran,” she said. She concluded that “the scholars” she had been following in her online research about Islam had distorted the Quran, she said.
“Even though I was committed to the idea of jihad, I didn’t want to hurt anyone. It was all about defending Muslims,” she said.
She called her situation a “life-altering” experience and said she now wants to be a “catalyst of good” going forward.
“I am deeply humbled by this opportunity to grow,” she said.
“I do not believe I am a threat to society and I ask you to allow me to prove it,” she pleaded to the judge.
Conley’s mother waved to her with tears in her eyes as Conley was led out of the courtroom. Later her parents released a statement online criticizing the U.S. legal system for making an example of their daughter in trying to discourage others from turning to extremism. If “the government is willing to sacrifice the future of a 19-year-old American citizen to drive the point home … then we feel the terrorists have won this particular battle in the war on terrorism.”
Outside the courthouse after the proceeding, Conley’s lawyer, Assistant Federal Defender Robert Pepin, told reporters he was disappointed with the sentence and noted that the plea agreement imposed limitations on any appeal, which the defense is considering.
“I think the judge gave a sentence he thought was appropriate. That’s all I really have to say about the sentence,” Pepin said.
He said he wanted Americans to know that his client is a wonderful person. “Her future will be bright. She will get past this,” he said.
’Not taking any chances’
But Moore said Conley’s plea agreement gave him limited options on sentencing.
Under the plea agreement, Conley faced “up to five years in federal prison and a fine up to $250,000 for conspiracy to provide material support to a designated foreign terrorist organization,” federal prosecutors said.
She received credit for cooperating with federal authorities, according to the prosecutor and the judge.
Her prison sentence will be followed by three years of supervised release and 100 hours of community service, in which she has to interact with “ordinary people,” Moore said.
He also prohibited her possession of any black powder or explosive materials.
“I’m not taking any chances,” Moore said.
Conley’s plea was made last year in exchange for a reduced charge with a lighter sentence.
During Friday’s sentencing hearing, U.S. Attorney Greg Holloway said Conley has been cooperative and willingly provided information to investigators. He argued that a four-year sentence would send a message that the U.S. government uses restraint, but consequences are serious in terror cases.
Moore interrupted the prosecutor at one point saying, “That woman is in need of psychiatric help.”
“I’m not saying that her decisions were all a product of mental illness. … But she’s a bit of a mess,” Moore said.
The judge referenced Conley’s psychiatric report that stated “she is not a terrorist.”