RICHMOND, Va. – A Virginia woman who lied to federal investigators about supporting the Islamic State militant group was a gullible loner who got ensnared online in a radical cause without fully understanding the seriousness of her actions, her lawyers said in court papers Monday.
Heather Elizabeth Coffman's attorneys recommended a prison sentence of three years and 10 months, which is the low end of a guideline range that extends up to four years and nine months. Coffman, 30, will be sentenced in federal court on May 11 on a single count of making a materially false statement about an offense involving terrorism. She pleaded guilty in February.
Defense attorneys said that since her Nov. 14 arrest, Coffman has thought about her behavior and told her probation officer: "I now realize, once I put my head back in reality, that ISIS is not great people."
According to an affidavit filed by an FBI agent, Coffman's Facebook posts supporting the extremist organization prompted an undercover investigation. The FBI says she talked about making arrangements for a man she identified as her husband to train and fight with the group in Syria, only to have him back out when they split up. The FBI says Coffman offered to make similar arrangements for the undercover agent and his fictitious friend.
She later lied when agents confronted her about her activities.
The defense sentencing memo provides the first public glimpse into how Coffman, a single mom who worked for 10 years as a sales clerk at a jewelry store, got caught up in terrorism.
According to her lawyers, Coffman grew up in a "very protective household" and spent most of her free time playing video games or surfing the Internet, even creating Facebook pages for her pet rats. Her social media activities led her to people associated with the Islamic State.
"Sadly, she became radicalized through these relations, and enjoyed the attention she received from posting provocative things on Facebook," the attorneys wrote.
They said Coffman was never a threat to the public and appears to have been swept into an Islamic State social media campaign targeting young people seeking an outlet for their anger and frustration.
Coffman's gullibility also is reflected in her relationship with the like-minded man she identified as her husband, the lawyers say. She met the man online, never saw him in person, and sent him her last $1,500.