RALEIGH — Hysen Sherifi spent nearly two months trying to organize hits against crucial witnesses from his terror-related trial.
But the 28-year-old native of Kosovo ended up doing a job on himself instead of the three confidential informants who were his intended targets.
A federal jury convicted Sherifi on Thursday of nine counts related to conspiring to commit murder-for-hire, a plot he began to plan late last year after he was convicted of conspiracy to aid terrorists and to commit terror abroad and at home.
Sherifi was sentenced to 45 years in prison for the terror case and faces additional time for the convictions he received Thursday from the seven-woman, five-man jury.
Though sentencing on the new convictions is set for February, prosecutors say he faces the possibility of spending the rest of his life in prison.
The murder-for-hire trial was one of the more bizarre cases to go to court in the federal Eastern District of North Carolina in recent years.
Prosecutors played tapes of jailhouse conversations between Sherifi and a Wilmington-area drug kingpin and snitch as they talked about ordering hits and beheading the intended targets.
Not only did Sherifi represent himself, always wearing the red prison-issued jumpsuit that served as a visual reminder to jurors of his current predicament, Judge Earl Britt cautioned him several times that his reading from the Quran and prayers and homilies in Arabic and English were not appropriate behavior at trial.
Sherifi on more than one occasion told Britt that he subscribed to the belief that “all judgment belonged only to Allah” and he was a soldier here on Earth warning the judge and others about the dangers of Satan.
Britt told Sherifi after his unorthodox opening statement that he would take his chances, that his mission was to see that a fair trial ensued.
Sherifi asked questions of only two witnesses – his brother, an admitted co-conspirator, and the FBI agent who played taped and wiretapped conversations with David Crummy, the jail snitch who informed his lawyer and federal agents of the murder-for-hire plot.
Sherifi was charged along with his brother, Shkumbin Sherifi, 22, and Nevine Aly Elshiekh, a 47-year-old special education teacher who initially thought she was helping the defendant raise money for his legal defense.
Shkumbin Sherifi and Elshiekh entered plea arrangements with prosecutors in which each agreed to plead guilty to one count of conspiring to commit murder-for-hire and offer truthful testimony at trial in exchange for dismissal of other charges against them.
Sentencing in their cases also is set for February.
Testimony from the four-day trial showed that from November 2011 to Jan. 22, 2012, Hysen Sherifi had many conversations about paying a hitman to murder and behead three witnesses and three law enforcement officers who testified against him in the 2011 terror trial.
Sherifi was among seven people arrested in July 2009 and accused of being part of a homegrown terror cell led by Daniel Patrick Boyd, a drywaller from Johnston County.
N.C. terror cell trial
Sherifi fought the allegations at a trial in New Bern in September and October 2011. He and two others were convicted on terror conspiracy charges.
The murder-for-hire plot, federal prosecutors contended, was designed not only to get revenge for the witnesses’ testimony. It also was intended to help his former co-defendant, Anes Subasic, in his May terrorism trial, and to win an appeal and dismissal of his own terrorism charges.
The plot was hatched in the New Hanover County Detention Facility, where Hysen Sherifi was incarcerated while awaiting sentencing in his terror case.
His brother, one of four siblings, initially declined to help with the plot, but eventually helped gather money and meet with people outside prison, who unbeknownst to him were informants working with federal agents.
The younger Sherifi, a graduate of Sanderson High School who attended Wake Tech before his arrest, ferried notes, photos and money into and out of prison on behalf of his brother.
Recruiting Raleigh woman
As part of that effort, Shkumbin Sherifi had several encounters with Elshiekh, who at the time was a special education director at a Triangle Montessori school.
Elshiekh, a Raleigh resident, had attended the terror trial of Hysen Sherifi because one of his co-defendants had been a student of hers.
After the terror trial, Elshiekh and others from the Triangle Muslim community began writing the men in jail, offering encouragement and support. Sherifi wrote back to Elshiekh.
Their correspondence initially focused on the case, but a more personal relationship developed over the weeks, and the two began to write and have phone calls about religion and love.
Sherifi began to romance Elshiekh, who was going through a difficult divorce, and soon she was helping him round up more than the character letters that she and his family planned to present at his sentencing hearing in February of this year.
Elshiekh, according to her lawyer Charles Swift, an attorney from Seattle who specializes in terror cases, was also a target of Hysen Sherifi.
In order to carry out the murder-for-hire plot, the older Sherifi needed money, prosecutors contend, and he used Elshiekh to get thousands of dollars.
Cash handover for hits
Outside a coffee shop on Duraleigh Road in early January, Elshiekh gave Shkumbin Sherifi a bag full of jewelry that he pawned at a Cary mall for thousands of dollars.
Prosecutors contend that $5,000 was passed from Sherifi, his brother and Elshiekh to the outside informant for the purpose of paying the hitman.
On the day of his arrest, Shkumbin Sherifi couriered staged photos that included a picture of one of the witnesses in a shallow grave and another of what looked to be a severed head.
The younger Sherifi took those photos to the New Hanover County jail and let his brother see them as evidence one hit had been accomplished.
Elshiekh’s lawyer said it also was a case about the “evil plotting” of a man who pulled his brother and a vulnerable older woman into a scheme that will rob them of their freedoms.
“This case is a chilling reminder that we must be ever vigilant in our pursuit of those who seek to destroy the freedoms we all cherish,” Thomas Walker, U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of North Carolina.