Judge weighs Somali immigrants’ testimony in Kansas bomb plot case

WICHITA, Kan. — A federal judge didn’t immediately rule Monday on whether to bar Somali immigrants from testifying at the sentencing of three men convicted of plotting to bomb the Kansas apartment complex where the immigrants lived, but he said he couldn’t recall ever denying someone that right.

U.S. District Judge Eric Melgren heard arguments from attorneys for three militia members who also were convicted of planning to bomb a mosque in Garden City, a meatpacking town in western Kansas that is among the most ethnically diverse in the state.

The men were scheduled to be sentenced this week, but the hearing was derailed by their request to block 20 short videos of testimony that the government wants to play.

Defense attorney Michael Shultz said the victim impact statements shouldn’t be allowed because none of the immigrants was hurt in the plot. Prosecutor Mary Hahn argued that harm to the community should be considered.

“They provide insight to the long-lasting impact of this crime,” Hahn said, adding that the men have tried to minimize the impact of their crimes as “mere words.”

The judge said he would issue decision later, but commented during the hearing: “I can’t recall that I have ever in a sentencing hearing denied a person who wanted to be heard the right to be heard.”

A federal jury in April convicted Patrick Stein, Gavin Wright and Curtis Allen of conspiracy to use a weapon of mass destruction and conspiracy against civil rights. Wright was also found guilty of lying to the FBI.

The attack, planned for the day after the 2016 general election, was thwarted by another member of the group who tipped off authorities about escalating threats of violence.

Garden City is 220 miles (354 kilometers) west of Wichita.