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Michigan man who made threats against Jewish people sentenced to prison

CBS News Detroit Digital Brief for March 4, 2024
CBS News Detroit Digital Brief for March 4, 2024 04:01

A 20-year-old Michigan man who admitted using social media to make violent threats against Jewish people was sentenced Monday to a year and a day in prison, far short of what prosecutors had recommended.

A sentence exceeding a year makes someone eligible for good conduct credits and a shorter stay in federal custody.

Seann Pietila, who has been locked up since June, was accused of using Instagram to spread neo-Nazi ideology, discuss plans to kill people and praise mass shooters.

Pietila admitted that he told someone last summer about a plan to kill or injure Jewish people and wanted to post the attack online. The FBI said Pietila also had written the name of the Shaarey Zedek congregation in East Lansing, near Michigan State University, on his phone along with a 2024 date.

"He never sent the note to anyone or posted it in a public forum," defense attorney Scott Tilton said.

Pietila moved to the Lansing area from the Upper Peninsula when he was 16 years old. Tilton said he's had cognitive issues as well as depression and anxiety.

"Mr. Pietila understands that his words have meaning, his messages were harmful, and that there are consequences for his actions," Tilton said in a court filing.

Prosecutors had sought a prison sentence of nearly three years. But U.S. District Judge Robert Jonker settled on 366 days, along with $10,648 in restitution to the synagogue for security. Pietila will get credit for nearly nine months already spent in jail.

"The preponderance of the evidence supports the conclusion that (Pietila) started down a path of desiring to kill people because of their religion or race and was interrupted by law enforcement before he was able to act on his desire," Assistant U.S. Attorney Christopher O'Connor said in a court document.

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