After more than four years in custody, the Montgomery County woman known to the world as “Jihad Jane” stood in court today and explained to a judge how she’d been duped by Islamic extremists into flying to Europe to participate in a murder plot.
“I reverted to Islam in 2008,” Coleen LaRose told Judge Petrese Tucker, referring to her conversion to Islam after connecting with extremists on the Internet.
La Rose, a plump, 50-year-old woman, appeared in a green prison jumpsuit with a black scarf that covered her head. She told Tucker she developed an online relationship with a man in Pakistan and that, after seeing countless videos of suffering Palestinians, she was ready for any assignment.
“All I could think about was jihad, jihad, jihad, all the time,” La Rose said. “I was in a trance. I couldn’t see nothing else.”
After listening to her, and a moving account of childhood horrors she suffered, Judge Tucker sentenced LaRose to 10 years in prison, far fewer than prosecutors sought, for her role in a failed murder plot.
Hard life, and a murder plot
After connecting with Islamic extremists through the Internet, LaRose travelled to Amsterdam and Ireland in 2009 to meet with others in a plot to murder Swedish cartoonist Lars Vilks, whose depiction of the prophet Muhammad enraged some Muslims.
Nothing came of the plan, and LaRose decided to return to the U.S. where she was arrested and eventually pleaded guilty and cooperated with the FBI.
LaRose’s attorney, Mark Wilson told Judge Petrese Tucker that LaRose had suffered through a childhood that was “beyond Dickensian,” marked by physical and sexual abuse and teenage prostitution.
Wilson played a video statement from Ollie Avery Mannino, a former counselor for runaway youths in Memphis, who’d encountered LaRose when she was 17 and fleeing her family.
Mannino said that in a phone conversation with LaRose’s father, he admitted raping LaRose and her older sister, and that LaRose had taken the phone and confronted her father about the abuse, shouting and crying.”Why did you do this to me? Don’t you know what you’ve done to me?” Mannino recounted La Rose as saying.
Wilson said that LaRose’s abusive childhood, lack of mental health treatment, and other circumstances made her vulnerable to manipulation once she went online and connected with Islamic extremists.
Wilson argued that LaRose’s efforts to participate in the murder plot were serious offenses, but that she never came close to carrying it out. He said even though she traveled to Europe and met with associates there, she never had a gun or any idea how she could get one.
She eventually returned to the U.S. knowing the FBI was waiting for her.
A warning to others
Prosecutor Jennifer Arbittier Williams acknowledged LaRose’s horrific childhood and said she’d cooperated meaningfully with the FBI. But she said LaRose still represents a threat to the public because, even as she was cooperating, she often expressed sympathy with jihadists and pride in her role in the murder plot.
Williams said LaRose “worshipped” the jihadist in Pakistan who had given her the assignment to kill Vilks.
In emails and letters she sent from prison, Williams said LaRose “still took pride in the fact that she’d been selected as ‘the hunter.’ She still showed devotion to this man.”
Williams also said that a much longer sentence was warranted to send a message to others who might be as weak and vulnerable as LaRose was when she was taken in by online extremists.
Williams said those who consider the course La Rose took “need to be shown that it doesn’t matter how awful your life was … you’re going to receive decades behind bars.”
Judge Tucker took note of LaRose’s hardships and her government cooperation, but said her offenses were “gravely serious.” She said everyone was lucky that the associates LaRose met with in Europe weren’t capable of pulling off a murder plot.
“The court has no doubt that, given the opportunity, Ms. LaRose would have completed the mission,” Tucker said.
Tucker’s 10-year sentence was in line with what Wilson sought, and far less than prosecutors asked for.
She’ll get credit for the four years and three months she’s already served in custody. With good behavior in prison, she could be out in fewer than five years. She also owes a $2,500 fine.
U.S. Attorney Zane Memeger said in a phone interview that the government was satisfied with the sentence.