A Rhode Island man sentenced to 15 years in prison for participating in a plot to behead a conservative blogger on behalf of the Islamic State group will be released early because of the coronavirus pandemic, a federal judge has ruled.
The judge ordered Nicholas Rovinski's release this week after his lawyers argued that Rovinski's medical conditions, including cerebral palsy and hypertension, make the 29-year-old particularly vulnerable to serious illness from the virus.
“The Court concludes that there exist extraordinary and compelling circumstances that warrant granting this motion for compassionate release,” U.S. District Judge William Young wrote in his order.
The judge reduced Rovinki's sentence to time served and ordered him to spent the next 10 years in home confinement with electronic monitoring, with the first six months in “strict home confinement.” Young denied prosecutors request Thursday to delay Rovinski's release for 30 days while they decide whether to appeal.
Rovinski was previously supposed to be released in 2028. His attorney, William Fick, declined to comment on Thursday.
Rovinski was sentenced in 2017 after pleading guilty to conspiracy for his role in the plot to kill Pamela Geller, who organized a Prophet Muhammad cartoon contest in Garland, Texas, in 2015. Rovinski testified against David Wright, who prosecutors described as the mastermind of the plot.
The cartoon contest Geller organized ended in gunfire, with two Muslim gunmen shot to death by police. The plot to behead Geller was never carried out. Instead, Wright’s uncle Ussamah Rahim told Wright on a recorded phone call that he decided to go after “those boys in blue,” referring to police. Hours later, Rahim was fatally shot by authorities after he lunged at them with a knife when they approached him in Boston.
Wright was sentenced to 28 years in prison but is scheduled to be resentenced next month after an appeals court overturned one of his convictions.
Geller said releasing Rovinski “sends the message to thousands of others like him that they can plot freely to murder those who say things that offend their evil ideology, and the consequences will be slight.”
“He terrorized our lives," she said in an email. "He has caused me and my relatives physical and emotional distress, as well as the crippling financial costs required as a result of his mass murder plot. This will never end for me, and so it should never end for Nicholas Rovinski."
Rovinski's attorneys described him in court documents as a “uniquely vulnerable young man” who for a period of time embraced a violent extremist ideology but “never came close to causing or participating in any actual violence" and was “uniquely illequipped ever to do so.”
“It is unspeakably tragic that the disabilities that first rendered Mr. Rovinski vulnerable to the odious siren song of his co-conspirators now also expose him to severe illness and death while he serves the extremely harsh sentence that the law required this Court to impose,” his lawyers wrote.
Prosecutors are urging the judge to reconsider, saying the release of a man “convicted of serious terrorism offenses after he has served only one-third of his sentence” is an outcome “most would find hard to fathom under the circumstances, especially in the absence of any concrete rationale for the result."
“We disagree with the Court’s decision to now nullify that sentence - after only five years - based on COVID concerns," U.S. Attorney Andrew Lelling said in an emailed statement. “We realize that Rovinski has certain medical issues, but this does not justify releasing to 'home confinement' - after serving a mere third of his sentence - someone who willfully conspired to kill people for ISIS," he said.
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