An unusual and unusually long-running terrorism case in Chicago that featured talk of Edward Snowden and even lizard overlords enters a decisive stage on Monday with the start of a multiday sentencing hearing.
A focus will be Adel Daoud's mental health before and after his arrest in a 2012 FBI sting, when the then-18-year-old pushed a button on a remote he believed would detonate a 1,000-pound bomb next to a crowded downtown Chicago bar. Agents who supplied the fake bomb told Daoud it would kill hundreds of people.
Prosecutors are asking for a 40-year prison term for Daoud, while defense attorneys want him released as soon as a mental health treatment program can be developed for him. They noted in a Friday filing that the 25-year-old has spent nearly seven years in jail — "one-quarter of his life."
Daoud was temporarily deemed mentally unfit for trial in 2016 after U.S. District Judge Sharon Johnson Coleman concluded he believed shadowy figures were out to get him. Daoud had called Coleman "a reptilian overlord" and said his lawyers were in cahoots with the Illuminati. After Daoud spent time in a psychiatric facility — where a doctor diagnosed him with schizophrenia — Coleman last year found him mentally fit. Defense attorneys say he is "virtually a different person" now that he's taking medication.
FBI critics say Daoud, who grew up in the Chicago suburb of Hillside, is a textbook example of how the agency often snares the mentally fragile in terrorism stings.
Daoud invariably appears cheerful in court, smiling and waving to the judge each time he is escorted in from jail. He sounded jovial when he told Coleman that U.S. authorities aimed to kill him in the jail basement.
"They're going to take me downstairs and they're going to cut my head off," he said during one hearing.
Thomas Durkin, Daoud's lead attorney, has pointed to his client's demeanor and apparent detachment as further proof that he wasn't capable of carrying out a terrorist attack.
Defense attorneys say undercover agents pressured Daoud to agree to increasingly ominous plots even as he expressed reservations. Among the giveaways about his mental state was his suggestion that he use a "flying car" to carry out attacks, their Friday filing added.
"The FBI (had) every reason to question treating Daoud as a terrorist," it says. "But instead, the FBI embarked on a self-fulfilling sting operation that identified and then weaponized its target."
But prosecutors said Daoud showed no signs of mental illness in 2012. Their filing Friday said he demonstrated initiative, once suggesting an attack that would involve fitting butcher knives to a truck and driving it into a crowd.
"The defendant needed no convincing to kill," the filing says.
Undercover agents engaged Daoud online months before his arrest after spotting his internet chatter about violent jihad. He told one undercover agent he wanted to kill Americans because they were at war "with Islam and Muslims."
After deciding on the bar as the target, Daoud expressed impatience, asking, "Could we do this today?" The undercover agent, prosecutors say, "continued to stall in order to give the defendant an opportunity to change his mind."
Their filing says the best explanation for Daoud's willingness to kill was "his adherence to an ideology of radical jihadism that is perverse."
While jailed on the terrorism charge, Daoud was charged with soliciting the murder of an undercover agent and with attacking a fellow inmate with a weapon made from a toothbrush because he said the man taunted him with a drawing of the Prophet Muhammad.
Daoud in November entered a rare Alford plea, the equivalent of no-contest plea, to two terrorism counts tied to the bomb plot and other counts linked to the solicitation of murder and the assault. Coleman accepted the plea over the objection of prosecutors, who said it denied them the chance to disprove defense claims the FBI entrapped Daoud. They asked for a sentencing hearing of up to four days to enter evidence they would have presented to a jury.
The case made history in 2014 when Coleman granted a defense request for unprecedented access to secret court records submitted to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, or FISA court, that might indicate whether Daoud was initially targeted as part of an expanded U.S. phone and internet surveillance program that one-time government contractor Edward Snowden revealed the year before.
Durkin invoked Snowden's name in arguing that the FISA records could shed light on whether investigators flagged Daoud because of internet searches for Osama bin Laden that Daoud made while working on a high school term paper.
Before the defense could go through the records, an appeals court reversed Coleman's ruling, siding with government attorneys who it could jeopardize national security.