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Ahead of sentencing hearing, Neighbours arsonist blames excessive drinking — UPDATE: 10 years

UPDATE: In Seattle’s downtown federal courthouse Thursday morning, Judge Ricardo S. Martinez sentenced Musab Masmari to ten years in prison for the New Year’s arson at Capitol Hill’s Neighbours nightclub.

Martinez doubled the sentence agreed to by both sides in the case, saying it was an exceptional case of arson that was clearly premeditated and not done in an alcoholic blackout, as Masmari had said in a written statement.”The community does need to be protected from the defendant in the future,” Martinez said. “It is not believable that he would’ve been in an alcoholic blackout.”

Masmari remained emotionless as his sentence was read and did not address the court.

“This could have been much worse,” said U.S. Attorney Todd Greenberg. “The people who were at the club deserve a lot of credit.”

Greenberg said Masmari had an anti-gay bias and there was reason to believe that setting the fire at Neighbours was a hate crime. However, Greenberg asked the judge not to raise the sentence based on hate crime motivations because it would not increase the sentencing guidelines and would open the possibility of appeals.

Outside the courtroom after the hearing, defense attorney Charles Swift said he may appeal the sentence. “Because of the political nature of this case, one always suspected this could happen,” he said.

Shaun Knittel, a spokesperson for Neighbours who was inside the club at the time of the fire, said he wanted to see a much higher sentence than the five years recommended in the plea agreement. “I’m actually disgusted,” he said prior to the judge’s sentencing.

Masmari at a court hearing earlier this year (Image: CHS)

Masmari, right in purple, at a court hearing earlier this year (Image: CHS)

Original Report — 7/30/14: The former Capitol Hill resident who pleaded guilty to setting a New Year’s Eve fire inside a crowded Neighbours nightclub is scheduled to appear in federal court Thursday for sentencing.

Under the plea agreement Musab Masmari will serve the mandatory minimum of five years in prison, although the judge in the case could sentence the 31-year-old up to the maximum 20 years allowed by law.

Masmari will not face terrorism or a hate crime charges for setting the fire inside the gay nightclub, though prosecutors signaled they may have had a case after learning that a “confidential informant” told investigators that Masmari said homosexuals should be “exterminated.” Prosecutors told CHS Masmari’s motives will be in question as part of the judge’s sentencing.

This week, Masmari’s defense filed a personal statement with the court where he blamed his actions on drinking too much alcohol before setting the fire. In the statement Masmari said he drank an entire “cheap bottle of whiskey” on New Year’s Eve and said he did not remember what happened afterwards.

“I do not believe that I am a bad man but when I get drunk I have done bad things. I swear that it is my intent to never drink again, and if I am offered a second chance at alcohol treatment, I will take it.” he wrote.

Several people who knew Masmari told CHS they suspected he suffered from some type of mental illness. Some Broadway shop owners told CHS they had to ask Masmari to leave their businesses for harassing customers. Following his arrest, Masmari was given a psychiatric evaluation, which is sealed by the court.

No one was injured in the Neighbours fire thanks to quick acting staff and patrons who were able to douse the flames before they spread into the packed dance floor.

Police and FBI arrested Masmari following a month-long investigation into the New Year’s Eve arson. According to police, Masmari had a one-way ticket to Turkey and was carrying both his Libyan and United States passports at the time of his arrest outside a Bellevue home. Police say “numerous” people called in to identify Masmari as the man seen in images from surveillance video recorded at the club the night of the attack.

Masmari once lived near Broadway and Roy, but stated in court hearings earlier this year that he had moved to the Eastside. His Facebook profile lists Benghazi, Libya as his hometown. In his statement, Masmari says he recognized the gas can found at the scene of the arson as his and that it was used to fuel the car he was living in so he could stay warm.

In February, Masmari pleaded not guilty to the arson charge in King County court but entered a guilty plea when federal prosecutors took over the case in May.

“This defendant violated people’s right to gather safely: he put more than 700 lives at risk when he purposely started a fire at a crowded nightclub on New Year’s Eve,” said U.S. Attorney Jenny Durkan in a written statement in May.

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22 thoughts on “Ahead of sentencing hearing, Neighbours arsonist blames excessive drinking — UPDATE: 10 years

      • Jenny Durkin the US attorney who ended her year long investigation into the Seattle police abuse and corruption only to end with issuing the taxpayers a 25 Million dolar fine and saying ” I never said we would prosecute any officer”

        Yeah her opinion of anything means very little to me.

    • Ditto also! It angers me when people use the “I was drunk” excuse, as if that means they have no responsibility. Hogwash!

      I hope the judge uses his/her discretion to sentence him to much more time than 5 years.

  1. I find the plea agreement hard to take, this act was premeditated in his hatred, planned and executed to kill or injure over 700 innocent people. He timed everything perfectly for folks to be distracted at midnight, I really don’t get it.

    • Agreed. Still I wonder if there is difficulty in establishing a hate crime aspect to a specific crime. Assuming he did express hatred other times, does someone have to directly express it specific to the crime in question for it to be a hate crime? He didn’t yell epithets or threats toward lgbt people while in Neighbours, but if he was thinking them and motivated by hatred, is that enough to legally establish a hate crime? Of course he wasn’t shouting because he was trying to be surreptitious. Drunkenness is of course no excuse, though maybe it made him less successful in his murderous intent.

      Still, I don’t have an innate trust that they had to take the plea deal. We’ll see what happens with sentencing. The judge has some flexibility there.

      • Circumstantial evidence is still evidence, and it can sometimes be admissable. If he’d espoused anti-gay sentiments before, and he made a trip specifically to a gay bar to do the deed, it’s not a big leap to conclude the reason he chose that bar was anti-gay malice. I’m not say they’ll necessarily pin it on him– but it’s a perfectly logical conclusion for any reasonable person to come to.

    • More like if it was BANK he would be serving life. Face it, even religion sometimes takes a back seat (not as often as other groups) but still the only protections are for businesses.

  2. To Eric Hutcheson and Andysea:
    Hatred and homophobia? Yes, probably. Religion?
    Does it mention anything in the article about his religion in this article that I missed? Do you know something the rest of us are not aware of? Or are you assuming from his name that he is Muslim? I’m certainly not defending the guy and hope he is held accountable and penalized. But religion?

    • Exactly, nowhere does it state his religion, people are just assuming. And not all muslims are haters and homophobes, it would be like saying all Israelis hate Palestinians. It’s more than we all see.

      Also, there’s a psych eval on file, and he’s had a history of public outbursts. But because you assume a certain religion you’ve also decided that mental illness is out the door?

      • It seems pretty clear he’s got some serious mental problems, and things like religion, alcohol and drugs, and weapons are dangerous tools for someone in this state. I don’t think “drinking too much whiskey” or belonging to a conservative religion are enough motivation to make a sane person do something like this.

    • …”Do you know something the rest of us are not aware of? “…

      There have been lots of other articles covering this story, and links to other information in the comments of those articles. So it might just be you missed something previously posted.

    • Assistant U.S. Attorney Todd Greenberg told CHS that prosecutors would discuss evidence during the sentencing hearing that Musmari targeted Neighbours because of a prejudice against LGBTQ people.

    • This guy used to be around Roy and Broadway all the time acting a bit weird but wearing normal clothes. Then all of a sudden, he started wearing robes and showing up most mornings and praying (bowing down towards Mecca and all) and reciting from the Koran (I understand some Arabic, and I recognized some of the texts, so I am not just assuming) and crying and just generally seeming as if he had lost his marbles and become very ostentatiously religious at the same time. I personally do think fundamental religiosity is related to mental illness, but I tend to think the mental illness is the cause, not the other way around.

  3. Well to state the obvious, seems too lenient. He could have easily caused a massacre that night. Feels like a slap on the wrist and sends the wrong message to anyone else with similar ideas. Good job ‘Merica justice system let’s go take shooting practice at homeless people or at least just shoot off some guns at something, anything.

  4. There are people serving life sentences for non-violent drug offenses in this country and a guy who tries to murder 700 people gets 5+ years. Yeah makes perfect sense. UNBELIEVABLE.

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