Finding that a district court judge “downplayed the extreme seriousness” of a long-running terrorism case in Chicago, a federal appeals court on Tuesday vacated the 16-year prison sentence handed down last year to a Hillside man who tried to set off what he believed was a 1,000-pound car bomb in the Loop.
The 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals then sent the case of Adel Daoud, 27, back to the district court for another sentencing hearing, siding with prosecutors who wanted Daoud locked up for decades. In doing so, it further prolonged a legal saga that began with Daoud’s arrest in September 2012, when he was 18.
That’s when an undercover FBI agent provided Daoud with an inert bomb installed in a Jeep that reeked of gasoline and was filled with wiring and “bags and bags of fertilizer.” Daoud parked it in front of the Cactus Bar & Grill, where the agent said there were 200 people nearby. Daoud said, “this is like the lottery” and pressed a detonator, prompting his arrest.
After that, Daoud enlisted a fellow inmate in an attempt to have the undercover agent killed. And then, in 2015, he attacked another inmate who had taunted him with a drawing of the Prophet Muhammad. The attack left the victim covered in blood.
In its 26-page opinion Tuesday, a three-judge panel found the sentence given to Daoud by U.S. District Judge Sharon Johnson Coleman “fell outside the range of reasonable sentences,” and it accused Coleman of giving “short shrift” to the need to protect the public.
“Daoud committed three discrete, premeditated criminal acts that exhibited an extraordinary disregard for human life,” Appellate Judge Amy St. Eve wrote in the opinion, joined by Judges Kenneth Ripple and Michael Brennan.
St. Eve also wrote that Coleman “sterilized Daoud’s offense conduct in ways that cannot be reconciled with the objective facts of these violent offenses.”
Federal prison records show Daoud is being held at a high-security facility in Kentucky and is due for release in 2026, though that projection was based on the sentence the appellate court vacated.
Daoud’s attorney, Thomas Anthony Durkin, reacted with an emailed statement that called Coleman “a good district court judge” who “spent seven years with this defendant and these cases.”
“The court of appeals has now abandoned its longstanding precedent of deferring to the sound discretion of the district court in saying that this is a ‘rare’ case where it will overturn a sentence,” Durkin wrote. “The only thing rare about this case is that it is part of the government’s never ending War on Terror. In hindsight we should have tried these cases, so the public could have seen the callousness and absurdity of the government’s tactics.”
Daoud’s case dragged through the federal court system in part because of mental health issues that led to a finding by Coleman in 2016 that Daoud was mentally unfit for trial. Earlier that year, she had already complained of delays in the case and said, “this is not justice.”
Coleman eventually accepted a specialized guilty plea from Daoud in 2018, in which Daoud admitted the facts revolving around his arrest but still denied culpability. It’s known as an Alford plea.
When Coleman handed down Daoud’s sentence in May 2019, she found Daoud was a socially awkward, impressionable teenager when he crossed paths with the FBI. She noted his “high-pitched giggle” in taped conversations with an undercover agent, and the fact that he used words like “fudge” and “mothercracker” in place of profanities.
Prosecutors said Daoud set out to commit mass murder in 2012. Instead of being scared and intimidated by the bomb given to him by the FBI, the feds say Daoud got excited.
“He believed he was fulfilling his mission for God,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Barry Jonas once argued.