Khaalid Abdulkadir, the 19-year-old Minneapolis man accused of tweeting death threats against a federal judge and agents last year, pleaded guilty to a lesser charge Tuesday morning on what would have been the first day of his trial.
Abdulkadir, who had been charged with a felony and faced the possibility of prison time, pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor and will receive probation.
Late Monday, as the parties prepared for a pretiral conference, Abdulkadir's attorney, Chris Madel, said there was "newly discovered evidence'' that could lead to a misdemeanor plea. Addulkadir was scheduled to stand trial on felony charges of threatening to murder a federal judge and law enforcement agents, and interstate transmission of a threat — which carry a maximum possible sentence of 15 years in prison.
Now, it is possible Abdulkadir could be released to home detention as early as Tuesday, which is when jury selection was to begin.
A pretrial conference Monday afternoon was delayed by more than an hour as Abdulkadir and his attorneys met in a courthouse conference room, with his parents and community leaders joining them periodically.
During the roughly 90 seconds court was in session, U.S. District Judge Karen Schreier of South Dakota granted a joint motion by the prosecution and defense to continue the hearing until 11 a.m. Tuesday. Abdulkadir's family and community leaders declined to elaborate on the discussions until after Tuesday's hearing.
Madel later said that the plea deal could resemble that of Mahamed Said, a 20-year-old Minneapolis man Madel represented in a case last year.
Said was another young Somali-American who had fired off a series of tweets saying he would "whack that us attorney general" and massacre federal agents after the arrest of six young men last April on charges of plotting to support ISIL.
Madel and Aaron Thom, Said's lawyers, negotiated a plea deal that reduced his charges to a misdemeanor, and he was sentenced late last year to probation and is now living temporarily in a halfway house in South Dakota.
If Abdulkadir's plea goes as expected, he and Said would be the only ISIL-related cases in Minnesota to end with misdemeanor charges.
Abdulkadir would have been the first Twin Cities defendant in an ISIL-related case to stand trial. His also appeared to be one of the rare online threat cases on track to go to trial anywhere in the country.
Abdulkadir has been held without bail in Sherburne County jail since agents stormed his south Minneapolis home and arrested him Dec. 10.
Prosecutors have said that hours after Abdulkadir's friend, Abdirizak Warsame, was arrested and charged with conspiracy to provide material support to a foreign terror group, Abdulkadir tweeted "More brother get locked up the cops body they will find on the floor body's dropping fast #kill them FBI and [expletive] as judge." Another tweet read: "[Expletive] them F.B.I. I'm kill them FEDS for take my brothers."
According to court filings, Abdulkadir deleted the tweets within about 20 or 25 minutes of posting them when a friend warned him he could get in trouble.
But a government informant had by then spotted the tweets and sent screen shots to the FBI.
After Schreier ordered the U.S. attorney's office to specify who was threatened in the alleged tweets, prosecutors last month named U.S. District Judge Michael Davis and members of the FBI's Joint Terrorism Task Force. Davis has presided over most of Minnesota's federal cases involving ISIL and Al-Shabab recruitment.
Meanwhile, Warsame, 20, of Eagan, pleaded guilty last month to charges that he and his alleged co-conspirators planned to travel overseas to fight for the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL).
He became the fourth Twin Cities man to plead guilty to such charges.
Last week, Davis ordered each to undergo a risk-assessment evaluation conducted by a German scholar to "recommend intervention needs for de-radicalization of defendants in terrorism-related cases" — the first program of its kind in the United States.