ST. LOUIS • Two men whose plot for multiple bombings was thwarted during last year’s Ferguson demonstrations were sentenced Thursday to seven years in federal prison after characterizing themselves to a judge as stupid.
The danger had been real, and cracking their conspiracy saved lives, a top federal prosecutor said.
Olajuwon Ali Davis, 23, and Brandon Orlando Baldwin, 24, pleaded guilty in June in U.S. District Court here to four explosives and gun charges in exchange for the agreed-upon seven-year terms.
In court, Davis said his actions were “reckless, irresponsible and just stupid.” He apologized to his family and asked U.S. District Judge Henry Autrey for an opportunity “to redeem myself.”
His lawyer, John Lynch, called Davis’ acts an “aberration ... in an otherwise law-abiding life.” He said that Davis attended college at the time of his arrest, and was “artsy” and a self-proclaimed philosopher. He also said Davis had helped his community in many ways.
Lynch objected to language in a pre-sentence report that, he said, held Davis responsible for “inflammatory” language used by Baldwin when Davis was not present or aware of it. Lynch later said that he was referring to Baldwin’s statements about the targets of the bombs they were trying to buy.
Both men supplied written statements to Autrey. Those were sealed and the defense lawyers declined to provide copies to a reporter.
Baldwin did not make a formal statement in court. But he did apologize to those close to him for “his stupidity, as he put it,” his lawyer, Brian Witherspoon said in court when summarizing the letter.
Officials said targets of bombs Davis and Baldwin wanted to acquire included a police station, St. Louis County Prosecuting Attorney Robert P. McCulloch and then-Ferguson Police Chief Thomas Jackson.
The plotters were arrested three days before a St. Louis County grand jury decided that then-Ferguson Officer Darren Wilson did not commit a crime in the controversial shooting of Michael Brown. That announcement set off a wave of violence and arson.
U.S. Attorney Richard Callahan, issued a statement Thursday that said, “The disruption of this plot, coming as it did on the eve of the expected Grand Jury announcement, undoubtedly saved lives. Luckily for all of us, we’ll never know just how many.”
William P. Woods, head of the St. Louis office of the FBI, said, “The ultimate satisfaction is that we prevented their violent acts during the Ferguson protests which saved lives.”
Davis and Baldwin met in August 2014 in Ferguson and began talking about buying guns and bombs and fighting back against police, their plea agreements say. But federal agents and police were soon watching, and listening.
Baldwin, who was then an employee of the Cabela’s store in Hazelwood, bought three guns and falsified federal forms when he said that the weapons were for him.
Davis, in conversations with confidential informers, said he wanted to build “bombs and blow things up” and “hit someone important,” his plea says.
Baldwin said they wanted at least 10 bombs, with “five for the people,” two for ATMs and one for the “tanks,” meaning the armored vehicles police were using during the Ferguson protests.
The targets included an unidentified police headquarters, McCulloch and Jackson, the plea agreements say.
The two men were arrested at a Hazelwood industrial park, where they thought they were picking up three pipe bombs. The devices were fakes, supplied by an undercover federal agent.
Investigators have previously identified both defendants as members of the St. Louis Chapter of the New Black Panther Party. Baldwin also is known as Brandon Muhammad and Brother Brandon, and Davis also uses the last name Ali and goes by Brother Ali.
Baldwin described himself as a field marshal for the party, his plea says. Davis said that he once carried a gun as part of a security detail for the party.
At a New Black Panther rally last year, Davis was identified as the Missouri chapter’s “minister of law.”
There was no indication that the organization supported their plans, officials have said.