Harlem Suarez, the 25-year-old convicted this year of plotting to blow up a Florida Keys beach in allegiance to the Islamic state, could spend the rest of his life in federal prison.
And that is plenty fair given the fact he purchased a supposed bomb while speaking of killing innocent bystanders, federal prosecutors said on the eve of Suarez’s sentencing.
“A sentence of life imprisonment is entirely fair, just and reasonable given the nature and circumstances surrounding the offenses of conviction,” according to the latest motion filed Monday by the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Miami.
Suarez is due to appear before Judge Jose Martinez at a sentencing hearing at the Key West courthouse on Simonton Street starting at 1:30 p.m. Tuesday.
Before Suarez even began talking with undercover informants he believed were ISIS sympathizers, the Stock Island man born to Cuban immigrants had amassed a collection of weapons, including two Glock handguns, an AR-15 rifle, multiple magazines and tactical gear.
“The government was extremely fortunate in this case that they were able to ferret out the defendant’s true intentions and monitor his every move to ensure that the defendant’s plans were not surreptitiously carried out on innocent civilians,” wrote Assistant U.S. Attorney Marc Anton.
Suarez took possession of what he believed to be a bomb and stated he would plant it on a Keys beach, setting it to explode when unsuspecting beach-goers were present, prosecutors pointed out.
But Suarez’s defense team says their client wasn’t sharp enough to carry out anything close to an act of homegrown terrorism.
“He was easy prey for the informants who appealed to his ego and his need for validation,” the defense wrote in an April 1 motion pleading for a sentence of years rather than life.”
“As a person with no history of aggression, it is submitted that defendant would not have had the ‘guts’ to blow up a bomb in an area where people might have been harmed,” attorney Richard Della Fera wrote.
Suarez has no criminal history prior to this federal case, in which he was persuaded by government informants to purchase a bomb, and is of low intelligence and incredibly naive and gullible, Della Fera said.
While Della Fera didn’t offer a suggested sentencing range, he listed several recent cases in which people convicted of plotting unsuccessful violent attacks received 12 years as punishment.
Also, the defense says it turned down plea-bargain offers from prosecutors that would have had Suarez facing up to 20 years rather than life only because Suarez’s parents pressured their son not to admit guilt but instead to “read his Bible and have faith in God.”
Suarez’s lawyers say their client’s parents are uneducated, non-English-speaking immigrants with no understanding of the “anti-terror fervor” reported in the American news media, Della Fera wrote.
Della Fera has also filed 35 pages of letters in support of Suarez, largely from neighbors and friends of the family who depict him as a kind, generous young man who wouldn’t hurt or threaten anyone.
“He is my beloved friend and also dated my daughter,” Adrian Torrez wrote. “My whole family knows him and loves him.”
“Perhaps you can consider forgiving him in this error he has made in lack of his maturity,” wrote Ma Lourdes Paricolar of Key West.
Gwen Filosa: @KeyWestGwen