An Alabama man accused of trying to work with ISIS and the Pakistani Taliban online couldn’t have done it, his lawyer and family insist. He has “the mind of a child,” they say, with an IQ of only 51.
But on Tuesday a judge refused to dismiss the case against Peyton Pruitt, 18, who was arrested in St. Clair County, Alabama, in November and charged with soliciting support for terrorism. Now the case is headed to a grand jury, and it may become the latest bellwether of who is fit to stand trial for terrorist sympathies.
The exact allegations against Pruitt were not revealed until Tuesday’s hearing.
Despite the defense’s arguments that Pruitt may not even be able to comprehend the charges against him, prosecutors argued in court that he was reading bomb-making instructions in al Qaeda’s online magazine, Inspire, and communicating with overseas jihadis about potential sites for an attack. Pruitt has been held in the Pell City jail on a $1 million bond since November.
The teen is the latest of more than 75 Americans to be arrested on charges relating to foreign terrorist organizations in the last two years. Authorities have charged teens as young as 17 as adults in federal cases, but no one has yet claimed to be developmentally disabled. (While the FBI investigated Pruitt’s case, he now only faces charges under a state statute.)
Pruitt most recently attended the E.H. Gentry Technical Center in Talladega, a school run by the Alabama Institute for the Deaf and Blind. According to AL.com, a school employee testified that he was reprimanded in April for using a school computer to go on “the ISIS website,” said Helen Waldrop, a case worker there.
Waldrop did not respond to a request for comment from The Daily Beast. It is not clear whether Pruitt is deaf or blind.
St. Clair County chief investigator Tommy Dixon testified that Pruitt “would be happy” if terrorist acts occurred, according to AL.com. Dixon read aloud from an FBI transcript that claimed Pruitt read Inspire and communicated on Wickr, a favorite messaging service of foreign jihadists.
Pruitt’s attorney, Gibson Holladay, argued that the government’s case is based on Pruitt’s statements—not tangible proof. In the statement, Pruitt allegedly told the feds he suggested the CIA headquarters and football games as terror targets.
“You couldn’t tell me if Peyton contacted Santa Claus or a terrorist, can you?” Holladay said.
Holladay has long argued that Pruitt has “the mind of a child.”
“He requires help and supervision for daily activities such as dressing, bathing and personal hygiene,” Holladay wrote in a motion for bond reduction filed last Monday. The attorney argued for a medical examination of Pruitt’s “congenital” disability, adding that his prior diagnosis was “Mental Retardation, Intellectual Disability, Pervasive Developmental Disorder, and Attention Deficit Disorder.”
“Peyton has previously been tested to have an I Q score of 52 and 58,” Holladay wrote in a court filing. When Pruitt was tested at age 5, it was 51, the documents allege. Holladay has not responded to multiple requests for comment.
Pruitt’s dad, Anthony, said in court on Tuesday that his son had told him that “Allah is Jesus in Arabaric.”
“But,” the dad added, “there is no such thing as Arabaric.”