Federal Judge Curtis Collier has directed attorneys who worked out a plea deal for a Signal Mountain man who admitted plotting to kill Muslims in a town in Upstate New York to show that it was "a true threat."
And, Federal Magistrate Susan K. Lee has reversed her earlier ruling and allowed 63-year-old Robert Rankin Doggart to go free pending disposition of the case.
Prosecutor Perry Piper and attorneys Bryan Hoss and Janie Parks Varnell had worked out a deal in which Doggart would plead guilty to a one-count bill of information charging him with interstate communication of threats. He would face up to five years in prison.
However, Judge Collier did not go along with that arrangement and directed the attorneys to file within 21 days "briefs addressing whether the factual basis in the proposed plea deal agreement contains communication on defendant's part amounting to a 'true threat' as required under" one section of federal law.
Prosecutor Piper said both the government and the defense had acknowledged that it was "a true threat."
He said Doggart, a former candidate for Congress in the 4th District, had focused on the Muslim community of Islamberg outside Hancock, N.Y., and tried to recruit "gunners" who would go with him to kill individuals there and destroy several buildings, including a mosque and a school.
The prosecutor said the government had tapped Doggart's phone and listened to him discussing the plot with several individuals. He said Doggart also made Facebook posts about the plan.
He said Doggart in one call said, "Those guys (have) to be killed. Their buildings need to be burnt down. If we can get in there and do that not losing a man, even the better."
The prosecutor said Doggart went to Nashville and showed an individual a map of Islamberg. He said he identified the buildings he wanted destroyed.
He said Doggart traveled to Greenville, S.C., and told an individual there his M-4 was "battle tested" at 350 meters, that he would serve as the stand-off gunner during the assault, and that he would shoot the residents of Islamberg during the attack."
After a detention hearing in which a federal agent testified at length about Doggart's actions, Magistrate Lee ordered him detained. She said, "I find clear and convincing evidence that the defendant it is a danger to the community and by the preponderance of the evidence that defendant is a risk of non-appearance. Based on the continuing nature of the offenses shown by proof and the evidence of undefined and potentially disabling mental health issues, and evidence of substance abuse issues, I conclude the defendant is a danger to the community and a risk of non-appearance and that there are no conditions or combinations of conditions that can assure defendant's appearance or the safety of any other person and the community at this time. Defendant must therefore be detained without bail."
At a later hearing, Magistrate Lee ordered Doggart's release after hearing evidence regarding his mental health situation. His attorneys said he had weaned himself from his prescription pain medication and was no longer consuming alcohol.
Magistrate Lee said he could be released into the custody of two family members, that he undergo psychiatric treatment, refrain from any use of alcohol or illegal drugs, participate in a program of substance abuse treatment if directed by his probation officer, remain under home confinement, submit to location monitoring, and have no Internet access."
Defense attorneys said Doggart has numerous degrees and certificates, is a veteran, and an ordained minister of the Christian National Church.
Judge Collier later affirmed the release by Magistrate Lee after an appeal by the government.
He said the government "has not shown by clear and convincing evidence defendant's release would pose an unreasonable danger to the community or any particular individual."
Two officials of The Muslims of America, which is headquartered at Hancock, N.Y., wrote Judge Collier on June 10, asking to be heard in the case. They objected to the plea agreement.
Hussein Adams and Khadijah Smith said, "We respectfully move this court to allow us as victims in this matter to be heard on the issue of Mr. Doggart's plea agreement currently pending. We respectfully do not believe that the plea arrangement is fair, reasonable or in the interest of justice as it relates to us his victims or to society as a whole.
"We welcome the opportunity to come before your honor to offer an opinion as to what should be considered in a disposition of this case. We find it ironic and disappointing that Mr. Doggart stated during his terror attack planning that he wished not to die while killing the residents of Islamberg, and instead he wished to return home to the family he loved. Now he is indeed home under house arrest and being cared for by the family who provides him love and comfort. Where is the punishment for his evil and criminal actions?"