In the end, Pell City attorney Lance Bell said he convinced those involved in the high-profile case that Ulugbek Kodirov, 22, was just a misguided young man who was brainwashed through social media networks, not “a big, bad terrorist.”
“At first he was facing a life sentence,” Bell said Monday.
On Friday, U.S. District Judge Abdul K. Kallon sentenced Kodirov to 15 years and eight months after Bell argued for a more lenient sentence for his client.
One national news commentator questioned how someone who tried to buy explosives and automatic weapons to kill the president of the United States could get off with such a light sentence.
“I thought it was a fair sentence,” Bell said Monday.
He said when he initially took the case a year ago, Kodirov faced seven serious federal criminal counts. Many of those counts were dismissed, and Kodirov pleaded guilty to three federal counts, threatening the life of President Obama, being an illegal immigrant in possession of a firearm, and providing material support to carry out the killing of the president of the United States.
Bell said based on the sentencing guidelines, Kodirov could have served 630 months to life in prison, but the judge sentenced him to 188 months of prison.
“We were able to educate the government and prove he wasn’t the big, bad terrorist everyone thought he was,” Bell said. “This was a social media case. We were able to show how he was recruited and got involved in this. It made a difference.”
He said through the Internet, his client was led to believe the United States was killing innocent people in his country, Uzbekistan.
Bell said young people are sometimes influenced by things on the Internet that are not true.
“Young people don’t need to believe everything they see and hear on the Internet,” he said.
Because of the events of 9/11, Bell said he was hesitant about taking the case.
He was appointed to the case by a federal judge.
“I got a call from the judge’s office saying they had a guy that they needed me to represent,” Bell recalled, adding that he received some criticism in the beginning about representing a “terrorist.” “This was a true threat to our president and a way to disrupt our way of life.”
Bell is one of about 40 attorneys who are members of the Criminal Justice Act Defense Panel, who serve as defense attorneys for the United States District Court Northern District of Alabama.
“My first meeting with him (Kodirov) was July 14, 2011,” Bell said. “I was told the guy was real dangerous, a real bad terrorist. As we got into the case, we figured out he wasn’t the person everybody first thought.”
The criminal case attracted not only local but national and international media attention.
Bell said he received calls from reporters in India, Spain and Uzbekistan, and the story was featured on the Associated Press wire, MSNBC, CNN, Fox News and other local media outlets.
Bell said he learned a great deal from the case, hearing from some of the top terrorism experts.
“It’s been a very educational case for me,” he said.
Kodirov will be deported to Uzbekistan after completing his prison sentence.
“… This case serves as a reminder of the dangers of the Internet on radicalizing our youth right in our own back yards, and all citizens and organizations need to remain vigilant on the ever increasing threat from home-grown extremists,” said FBI Special Agent in Charge Patrick J. Maley.
Prosecutors say Kodirov is being held accountable for his actions.
“This case is a sobering reminder that terrorist activity can happen anywhere,” U.S. Attorney Joyce White Vance said. “The threat to our community was neutralized by the coordinated efforts of federal, state and local law enforcement. This case has a happy ending — Kodirov is going to prison for more than 15 years and no one was hurt.”
Kodirov entered the country on a student visa in 2009, but a year later his visa was revoked because of his failure to enroll in school.
On July 13, 2011, Kodirov was arrested at the Hampton Inn in Leeds with an automatic assault rifle and hand grenades that he had planned to use in the assassination of the president.
Contact David Atchison at firstname.lastname@example.org.