BOSTON, Mass. (WPRI) – Occasionally choking back tears, a Warwick man who plotted to behead a conservative blogger renounced ISIS in a Boston courtroom Wednesday morning, vowing to become a productive member of society after he serves time for his role in the terrorist plot.
Nicholas Rovinski, 27, was sentenced to serve 15 years in prison for conspiring to support ISIS and conspiring to commit an act of terrorism. He will receive credit for time served behind bars since his arrest in June 2015.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Stephanie Siegmann acknowledged in court that Rovinski differed from other federal terror subjects in that he has publicly renounced ISIS and was willing to cooperate with federal investigators, including testifying for three days against his co-conspirator David Wright.
Siegmann said Rovinski never complained nor wavered in his decision to cooperate during long prep sessions for his testimony, even as threats were made to kill him and his family and to behead his cat.
Rovinski, Wright and Wright’s uncle Usaamah Rahim all plotted to behead conservative blogger Pamela Geller back in 2015, after ISIS (also known as ISIL or the Islamic State Group) issued a decree urging members to kill her over a cartoon contest of the Prophet Muhammad. The plot was never carried out.
“I’m striving to be a new man,” Rovinski said in court Wednesday. “I accept responsibility for my actions.” He said his crimes, for which he pleaded guilty in 2016, were full of “animus” and “evil.”
Rovinski also said he hopes to be a productive member of society upon his release, aiming to do charity work to help the poor and veterans. “He feels really badly about having signed on to an ideology that is inimical to the military forces that protect the country,” defense attorney William Fick said outside court.
While the plea agreement called for a possible sentence of 15-22 years, prosecutors and the defense team jointly recommended the lower-end 15 year sentence on Wednesday.
“There’s no doubt that the defendant…posed a grave threat to the United States in June 2015,” Siegmann said. She said his diagnosis of cerebral palsy is “not an excuse, but part of why he was so swayed” by Wright.
Wright was sentenced to 28 years in prison on Tuesday after being convicted by a jury in October. He was painted as the mastermind of the beheading plot, manipulating Rovinski into agreeing to the plan. Rahim, the third co-conspirator, was killed by police back in 2015 after lunging at officers with a knife.
After his arrest, Rovinski wrote two letters in prison to Wright, continuing to express a desire to recruit people to ISIS. But prosecutors said he later denounced the ideology and has fully cooperated since.
In emotional letters to the court, Rovinski’s family members described him as someone who had trouble fitting in, in part because of his disability, and asserted he was “brainwashed” by Wright after Rovinski turned to Islam following some troubled teen years.
“They knew he was vulnerable and naive, and that he was a lost young man trying to fit in and find friends,” Rovinski’s mother Lori Rovinski wrote in a letter to the court, asking for leniency.
- Read: Criminal complaint against Nicholas Rovinski »
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Family members declined to comment on the sentence after the hearing.
“If he hadn’t had the misfortune for encountering Mr. Wright online, this phase may have gone by unnoticed,” said Fick.
Still, Fick agreed the sentence as fair, while also calling it an “extremely, extremely severe punishment.”
Judge Bill Young recommended that Rovinski be placed at FCI Danbury in Connecticut, a low-security facility where he would participate in a skills program. He was also ordered to have no contact with Pamela Geller, and to be on supervised release for the rest of his life once he completes his sentence.
“These are most serious crimes,” Young said to Rovinski. “I’m glad you can acknowledge how fair the government has been.”