Home Memphis Press Releases 2010 Tennessee Man Sentenced for Conspiring to Commit Murders of African-Americans

Tennessee Man Sentenced for Conspiring to Commit Murders of African-Americans
Plot Included Then-Presidential Candidate Barack Obama

U.S. Department of Justice October 22, 2010
  • Office of Public Affairs (202) 514-2007/TDD (202) 514-1888

WASHINGTON—The Justice Department announced that Daniel Cowart was sentenced today to 14 years in prison and three years of supervised release for his role in a conspiracy to murder dozens of African-Americans, including then-Senator and presidential candidate Barack Obama, because of their race.

On March 29, 2010, Cowart pleaded guilty to conspiracy, threatening to kill and inflict bodily harm upon a major candidate for the office of President of the United States, interstate transportation of a short-barreled shotgun, interstate transportation of a firearm for the purpose of committing a felony, unlicensed transportation of an unauthorized short-barreled shotgun, possession of a short-barreled shotgun, intentional damage to religious real property, and discharge of a firearm during and in relation to a crime of violence.

Cowart, 22, of Bells, Tenn., admitted to conspiring with Paul Schlesselman of West Helena, Ark., to engage in a killing spree specifically targeting African-Americans. He further acknowledged that he intended to culminate these attacks by assassinating President Obama, a U.S. Senator and presidential candidate at the time of the conspiracy.

Cowart admitted that he and Schlesselman also conspired to burglarize a federally licensed firearms dealer to obtain additional weapons for their scheme. He also admitted to transporting a sawed-off shotgun from Arkansas to Tennessee for the purpose of committing felonies. Cowart additionally admitted to shooting the window of the Allen Baptist Church in Brownsville, Tenn.

Under the plea agreement, Cowart agreed that an appropriate sentence would be between 12 and 18 years. The charges to which he pleaded guilty carried a minimum sentence of 10 years and a maximum sentence of 75 years in prison.

“Threats of violence fueled by bigotry and hate have no place in the United States of America, and they will not be tolerated,” said Thomas E. Perez, Assistant Attorney General for the Civil Rights Division. “Although the heroic intervention of law enforcement spared us from a tragedy, this conspiracy and its associated crimes demanded a severe sentence. The sentence imposed constitutes serious punishment for a serious crime.”

“Thankfully, the defendants were not able to execute their violent scheme. Nevertheless, this is a grave matter and Judge Breen’s sentence reflects that crimes of this magnitude demand stiff penalties,” said Edward L. Stanton III, U.S. Attorney for the Western District of Tennessee. “I would like to recognize the extraordinary diligence of the Crockett County Sheriff’s Department, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms, the U.S Secret Service, and the FBI.”

Cowart’s co-defendant, Paul Schlesselman, pleaded guilty on Jan. 14, 2010, to one count of conspiracy, one count of threatening to kill and inflict bodily harm upon a presidential candidate, and one count of possessing a firearm in furtherance of a crime of violence. Schlesselman was sentenced to 10 years in prison on April 15, 2010.

This case was investigated by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives; the U.S. Secret Service; the FBI; and the Crockett County Sheriff’s Office. The case was prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorneys Larry Laurenzi and James Powell and Civil Rights Division Trial Attorney Jonathan Skrmetti.

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