AKRON -- A judge ready to sentence a fourth man in a failed plot to bomb a highway bridge asked him on Thursday if he should step aside from the bench because of bias.
U.S. District Court Judge David Dowd asked the attorney for defendant Anthony Hayne to discuss the issue with Hayne before Friday's sentencing in Akron.
The issue involves comments the judge made to Cleveland's The Plain Dealer newspaper that were favorable to three co-defendants sentenced last week.
The judge said if Hayne, who's from Cleveland, concludes the comments showed bias, he would remove himself from the case.
Hayne, 35, hopes his plea deal gives him half of the eight- to 11-year sentences his co-defendants got, not half the longer terms sought by the government. The judge called the longer recommendations grotesque.
On Thursday, Connor Stevens, of Berea, became the last of the other three men to appeal his sentence as too harsh. Stevens, 21, was sentenced to eight years and one month as the least involved, but the government asked for 19 years.
The judge had praised Stevens' comments court before his sentencing and predicted all three would emerge from prison as better people.
A spokesman for U.S. Attorney Steve Dettelbach said there would be no comment on the judge's bias query to Hayne. Hayne's attorney, Michael O'Shea, declined to comment.
Hayne's plea change request, filed the day the other three men were sentenced, was conditional on whether he gets a more lenient sentence than his co-defendants. His attorney said his plea deal in return for cooperation could still mean a longer sentence than the terms handed down to his co-defendants.
The co-defendants pleaded guilty after Hayne but without plea deals promising cooperation.
The men are described by the government as self-proclaimed anarchists who acted out of anger against corporate America and the government. The defense has called the investigation a case of entrapment, with an FBI informant guiding the way.
The men, who had been active in the Occupy Cleveland movement against financial inequality and what they called corporate greed, targeted a bridge over Cuyahoga Valley National Park between Cleveland and Akron, authorities said. The FBI has said that the public was never in danger and that the device was a dud provided by the informant.
A fifth co-defendant is undergoing a psychiatric exam at a federal prison outside Boston.