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Faith leaders urge mercy in sentencing of mosque bombers

Imams from the Bloomington Islamic Center and Twin Cities clergy urged forgiveness and the use of restorative justice for Michael McWhorter and Joe Morris.

ST PAUL, Minn. — The bombing of Bloomington's Dar al-Farooq Islamic center in Aug. of 2017 happened a long time ago, when measured by turns of the calendar. But the fear and uncertainty it caused among the mosque's community remains fresh, a reminder of hate and intolerance remains an uneasy presence. 

On Tuesday, April 12 two of those convicted in the early-morning explosion will be sentenced, but instead of asking for hard retribution Twin Cities Imams and faith leaders are asking a judge to show mercy when adjudicating the cases of Michael McWhorter and Joe Morris. 

Along with the mosque bombing, the two Illinois men entered guilty pleas in connection with a crime spree that included the armed robbery of a Walmart, home invasions, an extortion attempt on a Canadian railroad and the fire bombing of a women's health clinic. 

A news release sent out by the faith coalition says unlike convicted ringleader Emily Hari (known as Michael Hari at the time of the bombing and throughout his trial), McWhorter and Morris have "taken accountability for their actions and have expressed profound regret, as well as a marked understanding of how they were able to become radicalized to the point of committing this heinous crime."

The Imams say they believe the remorse shown by the two defendants is not an attempt to seek a lighter sentence, but "a deeper change in their being after coming out from under the influence of a manipulator." 

"At a moment when our country has been torn in half by the continuous sorting of human beings into categories of evil and hero, worthy and deplorable, good soul and bad soul, bad communities and good communities, we find the need for the court to exercise a nuanced and restorative approach to justice in this case all the more necessary," said the group of faith leaders in a released statement. "Michael McWhorter and Joe Morris have families, they have futures, they have a message that our country and other young people susceptible to hate desperately need to hear. They deserve forgiveness. Especially during the holiest of times (Ramadan, Easter), we deserve to offer it to them."

Federal sentencing guidelines call for up to a 35-year prison sentence for McWhorter and Morris, while their attorneys are seeking something closer to 10 years. 

Credit: KARE
Michael McWhorter (L) and Joe Morris (R) face 35 year sentences in the bombing of the Bloomington Islamic Center back in 2017.

Mosque leaders are asking the judge to show leniency and hand down a shorter sentence, one that will utilize the concept of restorative justice. 

"Both Morris and McWhorter have expressed remorse for their participation in the bombing and have accepted responsibility for their actions," said Minnesota's U.S. Attorney's Office in a sentencing position filing. "The government acknowledges and greatly respects Dar al-Farooq's ability to forgive their attackers and to use this act of terrorism as a platform to promote mercy."

Hari was sentenced to 53 years for his leading the effort to bomb the mosque. 

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