Thirty five years in prison. Thirty of them without parole.
That’s the price Anthony Graziano and Aakash Dalal will have to pay for the series of attacks on Bergen County synagogues they undertook in December 2011 and January 2012.
Judge Joseph Isabella handed down the sentences, five years more than the minimum, in a packed Hackensack courtroom last Friday. An overflow crowd watched the proceedings on video in a second courtroom.
Before the sentence, attorneys for the defendants made their case for leniency — which meant the minimum 30 years allowed by the state terrorism statute.
Mr. Graziano read an apology and plea for leniency.
“The hatred I had for the Jewish faith was unacceptable,” he read. “I hope the Jewish community can find peace after tragedy.”
His mother, Denise Rivas, also read a speech. She apologized emotionally to the Jewish community. “My son has a heart of gold,” she said. “I am so, so sorry for my son’s actions. Not a day goes by when I don’t ask myself what happened.
“This is not the way he was taught.”
She said that her son only reconnected with Mr. Dalal, whom he had known in elementary school, at her suggestion, because Mr. Graziano needed help with an algebra class at Bergen Community College. “Anthony looked up to him because he was a better student,” she said. “I told my son to call him.
“Your honor, in that short time something bad happened to my son, something very bad and wrong. My son was brainwashed and taught to hate.
“He did something incomprehensible and not so easy for the victims to forgive. Your honor, I’m pleading with you. Please don’t send him away forever.”
Mr. Dalal’s family were present in the courtroom, but they and their son declined to speak.
Later on, assistant prosecutor Brian Sinclair used Mr. Dalal’s silence against him.
“Today he had an opportunity to address the people who are here,” Mr. Sinclair said. “But he didn’t. No sorrow, no contrition. No sorrow for saying ‘Some day I’ll be the fuhrer.’” — a remark presented at the trial from the text messages exchanged between Mr. Dalal and Mr. Graziano. “That’s not offensive? Not something you’ll say to the community, ‘That was wrong’? Silence.”
Mr. Sinclair compared the statement Mr. Graziano made in the courtroom that day to something he said in his pre-sentencing interview: “I don’t owe someone a fake apology.”
“Those are his words,” Mr. Sinclair said.
The prosecution argued for a sentence of 45 years. The maximum term available was life.
“These are two men that saw the Jewish community as not humanlike,” Mr. Sinclair said, “As reptiles. They were partners in hate, intimidation, and ultimately in criminality.”
He noted their “pattern of escalating behavior” that ended only when they got caught.
Rabbi Arthur Weiner of the Jewish Community Center of Paramus/Congregation Beth Tikvah spoke at the hearing; Graziano and Dalal planned but aborted an arson attack on his synagogue.
“My young people thought these were crimes of a bygone era,” he said. “Sadly, I had to teach them that even here in Bergen County this can occur. The difference is that when they do occur, we will be assisted by every level of law enforcement.”
Pessy Schuman, who was rebbetzin of Congregation Beth El in Rutherford when firebombs were thrown through her window, also spoke.
Before announcing the sentence, Judge Isabella acknowledged that in the attacks, “No one was hurt, thank God. And I mean that in whatever faith you practice — Christianity, Judaism, Hindu, Islam — thank God — no one was hurt.”
The sentences included 32 years for the terrorism charges, to be served concurrently with 15 years for the arson attacks, including the one against Khal Adas Yeshurun of Paramus, and 20 years for bias crimes in connection with the three arsons. Three years were added on for the two graffiti attacks, against Temple Beth Israel in Maywood and Temple Beth El in Hackensack, which were not included in the terrorism charges.