CINCINNATI (AP) — A federal judge on Tuesday rejected the government's effort to cut back jail phone access for a man accused of plotting to attack the U.S. Capitol and warned him not to abuse his privileges.
Christopher Lee Cornell recently called a Cincinnati TV station from jail and said if he hadn't been arrested on Jan. 14 he'd have shot President Barack Obama in the head and carried out other attacks. Prosecutors afterward cited security concerns about liberal phone access for a "self-proclaimed supporter" of Islamic State militants.
U.S. District Judge Sandra Beckwith said there wasn't evidence Cornell had contacted "like-minded" people. But she agreed with a defense request to order that efforts to contact him be authorized by his defense attorneys.
She warned the shackled inmate that he should consult with his attorneys before making calls to anyone other than his legal counsel or family.
"I would caution you if you abuse your phone privileges they can be withdrawn or limited," the judge said.
After Cornell nodded in the affirmative, she noted that he appeared thin. But Cornell, 20, indicated to her he was getting adequate food in jail.
Cornell, who's from suburban Cincinnati, has pleaded not guilty to charges including attempted murder of government employees and officials. His father has said he was coerced and misled by a "snitch" trying to better his own legal situation.
Assistant federal public defender Karen Savir said Cornell is in isolation in Kentucky's Boone County Jail and taking away his regular phone access could compromise his ability to assist in his defense and cause psychological harm, saying "he needs meaningful human contact."
She said he hadn't given the court any reason to take it away. She criticized prosecutors for "expressing no concerns about national security" when defense attorneys unsuccessfully sought a court order to block airing of Cornell's WXIX-TV interview as a threat to fair trial rights. But she noted Tuesday that his call to the TV station wasn't illegal and that the jail can monitor and record his conversations.
Federal prosecutor Timothy Mangan said Cornell's comments in the interview showed that he "does want to try to incite others" and wants a platform.
Questioned by the judge, he acknowledged that a review of Cornell's phone calls didn't find contacts with terrorist organizations.
"The opportunity is still there," Mangan added.
Cornell, who has asked to be called by his Muslim name, Raheel Mahrus Ubaydah, was arrested outside a suburban gun shop after the FBI said he bought two M-15 assault weapons and 600 rounds of ammunition.
He told the Cincinnati television interviewer he would have taken a gun and "put it to Obama's head, I would have pulled the trigger, then I would unleash more bullets on the Senate and House of Representative members, and I would have attacked the Israeli embassy and various other buildings." He said he wanted to attack because of "continued American aggression."
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