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Somalis hope compassion guides judge in ISIS sentencing

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Protestors gather after closing arguments.
Protestors gather after closing arguments in the trial of three Twin Cities men accused of trying to join the ISIS terror group in Syria at the Federal Courthouse in Minneapolis on May 31.
Courtney Perry for MPR News

They may turn out to be the most scrutinized judicial sentences in Minnesota history.

Federal Judge Michael Davis is currently weighing the fate of nine young Somali-American Minnesotans who've either pleaded guilty or been convicted of crimes tied to trying to join the ISIS terror group. No sentencing date has been set, but Davis' decisions could reverberate across the world and observers say he faces a tough task.

That's true especially in the judgments against three who were found guilty recently of multiple terror-related crimes, including conspiracy to murder abroad. Those men face life in prison. 

Davis has expressed interest in prison programs intended to de-radicalize people who've been lured by ISIS propaganda and some of the men who pleaded guilty have already been evaluated to see if they qualify. But it's unclear how many Davis might send on that path.

Tom Heffelfinger
Tom Heffelfinger
Dan Kraker | MPR News 2012 file

"I suspect that for Judge Davis, this will be one of the hardest sentencings he has had to do," said Thomas Heffelfinger, a former U.S. attorney for Minnesota.

The trial remains an open wound in the Somali community. Some Somali-American leaders say they hope Davis will show compassion given comments by some of the defendants that they never really intended to travel to Syria to fight with ISIS and that their secretly recorded remarks were little more than youthful boasts.

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