GAINESVILLE, Ga. (AP) — A judge on Friday said the fact that two north Georgia men likely could never have carried out a plot to target the federal government does not make their words and actions any less serious and sentenced each of them to serve 10 years in prison.
U.S. District Judge Richard Story disputed defense lawyers' arguments that Samuel Crump, 71, and Ray Adams, 58, were just grumpy old men talking big with no intention to hurt anyone. There is a difference, Story said, between ranting and backing up words with actions.
"The crime charged here is pretty darned serious," he asked. "We're talking about acts that would take the lives of people."
Both men were found guilty in January on a single count each of conspiring to make ricin to be used as a weapon. They also were found guilty of one count each of possessing a biological toxin for use as a weapon, identified in the indictment as ricin in its natural state, meaning it hadn't been extracted from castor beans in which it occurs naturally.
Adams and Crump were among four men arrested in November 2011 after recordings were made by an undercover informant who attended their meetings at homes, during car rides and at a Waffle House restaurant.
The other two men, Dan Roberts and Frederick Thomas, who were militia members, pleaded guilty in April 2012 to conspiring to get an unregistered explosive and an illegal gun silencer.
Lawyers for Crump and Adams, who associated with the militia but hadn't formally joined the group, maintained that their clients were just talking and never intended to hurt anyone. They also asked Story to consider the fact that Roberts and Thomas, who had gone so far as to obtain weapons, got only five years in prison after they reached plea deals with the government.
In a yellow jail jumpsuit and walking with the help of a cane, Adams was apologetic as he asked the judge for leniency, detailing a string of health problems that have plagued him since he was put in jail.
"I said some things in that first meeting that sounded awful, and I regret that," he said, referring to recordings played during the trial in which Adams can be heard suggesting that they attack government buildings with toxins and kill government employees.
Adams said he felt pressure to participate in the conversation but never would have hurt anyone.
Crump, on the other hand, apologized for his words but was otherwise defiant as he addressed Story, saying recordings of him speaking were illegal and not accurate.
"I'm not a criminal, never have been, never wanted to be. I'm not a terrorist, never have been, never would be," Crump said as he addressed Story at length, pausing frequently to catch his breath.
He also accused the government of trying to frame him and said he was dissatisfied with his lawyer and wanted a new trial.
In reaching his decision, Story said the crimes charged are very serious, even if it's very unlikely Adams and Crump could have made ricin. He also said he doesn't believe either of them is a danger to the public going forward, but not because they're too old or feeble.
"You guys are not too old to hurt people and do things that can hurt people," he said. "But you're old enough to know better."
Among the factors Story said he considered in deciding their sentences were the ages, health and relative culpability of Crump and Adams. Because Roberts and Thomas got five years in their agreement with prosecutors, despite having purchased weapons and having a more detailed plan, Story said he didn't want to give Crump and Adams the life sentence allowed by law or even the 20 years requested by prosecutors.
Story said he was troubled by Crump's apparent unwillingness to accept responsibility and told Crump he was getting a break because the judge felt the two men should get the same sentence and he based his decision on what he thought Adams deserved.
In addition to the 10 years in prison, Story ordered each man to serve five years of supervised release following the completion of their prison terms. They will get credit for the three years they've spent in jail since their arrest in November 2011.
Previous versions of this story said Crump was 70 instead of 71.