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Father of San Bernardino terror victim condemns plea agreement for gunman’s friend

Enrique Marquez Jr
A sketch of Enrique Marquez Jr. in federal court at an earlier hearing in his criminal case. Marquez, 25, pleaded guilty to terrorism-related charges.
(Bill Robles / Associated Press)

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

Times staff writer Joel Rubin contributed to this report.

paloma.esquivel@latimes.com

For more Inland Empire news follow me @palomaesquivel


UPDATES:

4:35 p.m.: This article was updated with comments from Decker and some additional details about the hearing as well as background about the terror attack and plea deal.

10:25 a.m.: This article was updated with details from the court hearing.

This article was originally published at 10:10 a.m.


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