Antonio Martinez, 21, was arrested last week in an FBI sting after agents said he tried to detonate a phony bomb outside a Catonsville recruitment center. He’s charged with attempted murder of federal officers and attempted use of a weapon of mass destruction.
His public defender, Joseph Balter, argued at a detention hearing Monday that his client, who prefers to be addressed as Muhammad Hussain, did not initiate the bombing plot. He described it as “the creation of the government — a creation which was implanted into Mr. Hussain’s mind.”
“There was nothing provided which showed that Mr. Hussain had any ability whatsoever to carry out any kind of plan,” Balter said.
But prosecutors said Martinez had been plotting to kill U.S. soldiers before he even met the informant who reported him to the FBI. They offered new details of the investigation to support their argument that he should be detained.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Christine Manuelian said investigators captured Martinez on videotape, “grinning from ear to ear,” as he armed the phony bomb.
“There is no indication of any remorse, any concern, any nervousness that he is about to go and kill people,” Manuelian said.
Manuelian said that before Martinez tried to detonate the bomb with a cell phone, he videotaped himself saying, “There will be no place for the oppressors. You will feel our bullets.”
After his arrest, Martinez told law enforcement officers the bombing attempt was his idea and that no one influenced him, Manuelian said. Still, Manuelian said Martinez was suspicious that the situation could have been a setup.
She said he also considered attacking the center with a gun.
U.S. Magistrate Judge Susan K. Gauvey ordered Martinez detained pending trial, saying he was dangerous and a flight risk. The defense’s entrapment argument “really is an issue for another day,” she said.
A woman who identified herself as Martinez’s mother said she believes he was entrapped.
“This is not Tony,” she told reporters, declining to give her name. “I think he was brainwashed with that Islam crap.”
Steven Levin, a criminal defense attorney and former federal prosecutor who is not involved in the case, said Balter’s argument seemed tailored not just for the judge but for potential jurors.
“It’s a legitimate strategy to develop an entrapment defense because often in these kinds of cases, there is no other defense,” Levin said. “It’s appropriate that he raise it as early as possible.”
The FBI began investigating Martinez in early October after an informant pointed out postings on Martinez’s Facebook page. Balter said the Facebook postings constituted political and religious speech and made no specific threats.
Balter said the lack of a recording of the informant’s initial three conversations with Martinez is a sign the government was trying to obscure its role in developing the plot. It was in those conversations that Martinez first mentioned attacking the recruiting center, according to a criminal complaint.
“What we have here is a narrative controlled exclusively by the FBI,” Balter said.
He accused the FBI of using “a cookie-cutter approach” to its sting operations, referencing the recent arrest of a man charged with trying to detonate a phony bomb at a Portland, Ore., Christmas tree lighting.
He also questioned what the informant stood to gain from the FBI.
In response to questions from Gauvey, Manuelian said the informant had no criminal record was not paid except for incidental expenses, like buying a cell phone for Martinez. She said the informant had worked with the FBI briefly on an unrelated case.
Also among the new evidence offered by prosecutors were journal entries from May 2009 in which Martinez allegedly wrote about insurgent tactics and improvised explosives. In one entry, she said, Martinez expressed a desire to be remembered as a “fearless warrior,” adding, “I am willing to endure a warrior’s life.”