‘I just don’t think it’s right’

Vic­tim’s fa­ther speaks out against plea deal for San Bernardino gun­man’s friend.

Los Angeles Times - - THE STATE - By Paloma Esquivel paloma.esquivel@la­times.com Times staff writer Joel Ru­bin con­trib­uted to this re­port.

The fa­ther of one of the 14 peo­ple killed in the 2015 San Bernardino ter­ror at­tack an­grily crit­i­cized a plea deal be­tween pros­e­cu­tors and the man who pur­chased two ri­fles used in the shoot­ings, telling a court on Thurs­day that the agree­ment was too le­nient.

Gre­gory Clay­born said he didn’t un­der­stand why au­thor­i­ties agreed to a plea bar­gain that didn’t call for En­rique Mar­quez Jr. to spend the rest of his life in prison.

“If he had not pro­vided those weapons, we might not be here,” said Clay­born, whose daugh­ter Sierra was among the vic­tims. “My daugh­ter, she didn’t de­serve this…. I just don’t think it’s right, this plea bar­gain.”

Clay­born spoke at a hear­ing in fed­eral court in Riverside where Mar­quez, 25, pleaded guilty to charges of con­spir­ing to pro­vide ma­te­rial sup­port to ter­ror­ists and mak­ing false state­ments in con­nec­tion with the pur­chase of a firearm.

The hear­ing was at­tended by dozens of fam­ily mem­bers of vic­tims of the at­tack. But Clay­born was the only one who spoke in court. Oth­ers will likely have a chance to ad­dress the court be­fore Mar­quez’s sen­tenc­ing, which is sched­uled for Aug. 21. The com­bined max­i­mum sen­tence al­lowed for the two charges is 25 years in prison.

Mar­quez, a close friend of gun­man Syed Rizwan Fa­rook, was not ac­cused of tak­ing part in or hav­ing ad­vance knowl­edge of the shoot­ings, but he quickly emerged as a key fig­ure in the in­ves­ti­ga­tion after the Dec. 2, 2015, at­tack at the In­land Re­gional Cen­ter, which also left 22 peo­ple wounded.

Ac­cord­ing to a plea agree­ment filed in court, Mar­quez ad­mit­ted plot­ting two ter­ror at­tacks with Fa­rook in the years be­fore the San Bernardino shoot­ings. Those at­tacks were never re­al­ized. He also bought for Fa­rook two of the weapons that were later used at the re­gional cen­ter.

Mar­quez was the only per­son for­mally charged in con­nec­tion with the shoot­ings. Fa­rook and his wife, Tash­feen Ma­lik, died in a gun bat­tle with po­lice hours after the as­sault.

Mar­quez, who cried dur­ing parts of the hear­ing, ap­peared to have a dif­fi­cult time un­der­stand­ing some of the ques­tions posed to him by the judge and had to ask his at­tor­ney for clar­i­fi­ca­tion a num­ber of times. At one point, when the judge asked what level of ed­u­ca­tion he had achieved, Mar­quez paused.

“That’s a bit dif­fi­cult to an­swer,” he said. “I’m a high school dropout, and I’m a col­lege dropout too.”

He told the judge he is be­ing treated by a psy­chi­a­trist and has been tak­ing lithium. He did not know his di­ag­no­sis.

As part of Mar­quez’s plea deal, the gov­ern­ment agreed to also dis­miss two fraud charges against him that stemmed from his bo­gus mar­riage to a Rus­sian woman, Mariya Ch­ernykh, whose sis­ter is mar­ried to Syed Ra­heel Fa­rook, the shooter’s older brother. Ch­ernykh, her sis­ter and the el­der Fa­rook all pleaded guilty to mar­riage fraud charges this year.

Mar­quez met and be­came friends with Syed Rizwan Fa­rook in 2005 after mov­ing next door to him in Riverside. Years later, he and Fa­rook be­gan at­tend­ing a mosque to­gether and were se­cretly amass­ing weapons, dis­cussing rad­i­cal Is­lam and plot­ting at­tacks, pros­e­cu­tors al­leged.

Mar­quez and Fa­rook planned to launch an as­sault on the 91 Free­way in Corona and at Riverside City Col­lege in 2011 and 2012, but both plots were aborted, ac­cord­ing to the plea agree­ment.

At Riverside City Col­lege, where Mar­quez and Fa­rook had been en­rolled as stu­dents, they drew up plans to hurl pipe bombs onto a cafe­te­ria from the floor above and iden­ti­fied the es­cape route they would use to carry out more at­tacks else­where on the school grounds, Mar­quez ad­mit­ted in the plea agree­ment.

Mar­quez and Fa­rook also made plans to to lay siege to a stretch of the 91 Free­way that has no ex­its, ac­cord­ing to the agree­ment. The plan called for Mar­quez to fire on peo­ple from the hills over­look­ing the free­way as Fa­rook threw pipe bombs from the side of the road and then shot peo­ple at close range.

In late 2011 and early 2012, Mar­quez bought two ri­fles and claimed in fed­eral pa­per­work that they were for him­self when in re­al­ity they were for Fa­rook, who paid Mar­quez for the weapons, ac­cord­ing to the plea.

The men be­lieved Mar­quez could buy the ri­fles “more eas­ily than Rizwan and would re­ceive less scru­tiny than Rizwan,” pros­e­cu­tors said.

The agree­ment also de­tailed plans the men hatched for mak­ing im­pro­vised ex­plo­sive de­vices for their at­tacks.

Fol­low­ing the hear­ing, U.S. Atty. Eileen M. Decker said that she sym­pa­thized with Clay­born, the fa­ther who ob­jected to the deal, but that pros­e­cu­tors did not have ev­i­dence to charge Mar­quez with more se­ri­ous crimes.

“My heart con­tin­u­ally goes out to him,” Decker said. But, she added, “my job is to fol­low the law. That’s what we’ve done.”

In­ves­ti­ga­tors have found no ev­i­dence to sug­gest that Mar­quez was in­volved in plan­ning the Dec. 2, 2015, at­tack, Decker said. How­ever, she said, when Mar­quez con­spired with Fa­rook years ear­lier to at­tack Riverside City Col­lege and driv­ers on the 91 Free­way, it laid a foun­da­tion for the San Bernardino shoot­ings.

Decker added that the in­ves­ti­ga­tion into the San Bernardino at­tack is not over.

“We will con­tinue this un­til we can say we’ve turned over ev­ery stone,” she said.

Reed Saxon As­so­ci­ated Press

GRE­GORY CLAY­BORN, whose daugh­ter was killed in the 2015 San Bernardino ter­ror at­tack, said he didn’t un­der­stand why au­thor­i­ties agreed to a deal that didn’t in­clude a life prison sen­tence for En­rique Mar­quez Jr.

Bill Robles As­so­ci­ated Press

MAR­QUEZ faces a max­i­mum 25-year prison sen­tence after plead­ing guilty to two charges in the pur­chase of two weapons used in the San Bernardino ter­ror at­tack.

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