What started with graffiti may end with life in prison for Anthony Graziano of Lodi, who was convicted of terrorism and 19 other charges last week.
Mr. Graziano, 19 at the time of the attacks and 24 today, will be sentenced in July for a series of anti-Semitic attacks on Bergen County synagogues in 2011 and 2012. The attacks culminated with Molotov cocktails that he threw into the bedroom of Rabbi Nosson Schuman, then of Congregation Beth El in Rutherford.
The terrorism charge has a minimum sentence of 30 years. “He will receive the repercussions for his actions,” Rabbi Schuman said.
Rabbi Schuman was one of the witnesses in the four-week trial. On the witness stand, he said that the explosive that was thrown through his window was like “dragon’s breath,” according to the Bergen Record.
“The trial and verdict should assure all residents of northern New Jersey that intolerance will not go unpunished,” Jason Shames, CEO of the Jewish Federation of Northern New Jersey, said.
“The charges against Mr. Graziano truly reflected his intentions to do harm,” Mr. Shames added. “His conviction on a terrorism charge clearly sends the appropriate message.”
Mr. Graziano’s attorney had argued, based on testimony drawn from his confession to police investigators, that Mr. Graziano had not intended to kill anyone, and that his attacks should be understood as pranks.
His attorney appears to have been partially successful, to the extent that the jury failed to convict Mr. Graziano on attempted murder charges for the arson attack that could have killed Rabbi Schuman and his family. The terrorism charge, with its 30-years-to-life sentence, however, required only that a dangerous crime be committed, and that its purpose be “to terrorize five or more persons.”
Mr. Graziano did not testify at his trial.
“The Jewish Federation of Northern New Jersey wants to thank the office of the Bergen County prosecutor, Gurbir Grewal, and Bergen County law enforcement for bringing Anthony Graziano to justice,” Mr. Shames said. “Their painstaking work helped to ensure a sense of safety and security for the Jewish community during a very painful period.”
During the trial, Mr. Graziano’s attorney tried to show that the close connection between then-Bergen County prosecutor John Molinelli and the Jewish community was evidence of improper prosecution for acts that really were meant as pranks.
“There are politics in play here,” defense attorney Ian Silvera was quoted by the Record as telling the jurors, explaining that the prosecution was “overcharging this case.”
But the prosecution noted that Mr. Graziano continued to throw Molotov cocktails at the synagogue building even after he heard screams coming from it. And he admitted to investigators that it was “a bonus” that there were people inside.
Yet one of the biggest questions concerning the case remains to be answered: Why? What was the source of this anti-Semitic hatred?
Aakash Dalal is charged as Mr. Gaziano’s co-conspirator and appears to have been the mastermind of the plots, even though it was Mr. Graziano who made and threw the firebombs. His trial will start in a few weeks.
It was apparently Mr. Dalal who convinced Mr. Graziano that Jews were a threat to the world and to him personally. In text messages brought out at the trial, Mr. Dalal told Mr. Graziano, “I don’t trust you until you kill a Jew.”
Christian Haddad, a former friend of Mr. Granziano’s brother, testified that had been playing a video game with Mr. Granziano after the initial attacks, and Mr. Granziano “was talking about how he vandalized some of the synagogues, how Jews were taking over the world and how he thought… the Jews had poisoned him with Ricin,” according to the Record.
Mr. Graziano’s mother testified that she advised her son to turn to Mr. Dalal, a childhood friend, for help with an algebra course he was required to take for college.
She recalled seeing a swastika on her son’s computer, and told him to get rid of it. “This is not the kid I raised,” she said. “I don’t know what happened.” She also told the jury that she had encouraged her son to confess after he was arrested.
Rabbi Schuman said he remains unsure whether Mr. Graziano and Mr. Dalal have learned anything. “I never heard any words of regrets or apologies to the Jewish people or the people of Bergen County,” he said. “I sort of wonder if four years in prison makes them realize they have done wrong.”