Maricopa County Attorney Bill Montgomery confirms a plea deal is in the works for two women whose anti-Muslim rampage through a Tempe mosque caused an international uproar.
Montgomery and a spokeswoman for the mosque issued a statement on the case late Thursday after a report suggested the two women could avoid jail time after Montgomery got personally involved in the prosecution.
The Montgomery statement says nothing about any jail time or punishment for a hate crime. It does indicate the mosque would like to use the incident as a kind of teachable moment.
Tahnee Gonzales, 32, of Glendale, and Elizabeth Dauenhauer, 51, of Phoenix, were charged with felony burglary and aggravated criminal damage in the alleged vandalism last March. Gonzalez also faces three counts of endangering children.
Both women have pleaded not guilty to the charges.
The women had children with them as they spewed anti-Muslim slurs and snatched religious literature. Their video was livestreamed on Facebook Live.
Gonzalez and Dauenhauer, who proclaim their support for President Donald Trump in their video, have a history of confronting Muslims with hateful rhetoric.
A spokeswoman for the mosque, the Islamic Community Center of Tempe, said it would like to "see some good come from this heinous attack."
"To see these women coming to the mosque with their children and saying such comments filled with hate and instilling such hate in their children was heartrending," spokeswoman Kristy Sabbah said.
"With that being said, we're a forgiving community."
The mosque is offering an educational session for Gonzales and Dauenhauer, their children, and the community. It also would like the women to perform community service hours at the mosque, rather than making restitution for the damage.
Gonzales' attorney, Marc Victor, told 12 News she hadn't been offered a plea deal. Victor said he asked Montgomery to set up a meeting for her with the mosque's leadership.
"She said horrible things there. There's no question about that," Victor said.
"My client needs to change and do something positive."
Montgomery, a two-term Republican, fired back at the suggestion that his personal involvement in the case was unusual.
"To assert that this case is being handled in an unusual manner is irresponsible and provocative," he said in the statement.
"There have been multiple instances where I have been directly involved in working out a just resolution to cases."
But there are skeptics about a possible plea deal to avert a trial.
Imraan Siddiqi, executive director of the Arizona chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, a civil rights group, questions whether an attack on a Muslim house of worship will be treated in the same way as an assault on a church or a synagogue.
There is also Gonzales' and Dauenhauer's history of harassment.
"It's great for people to have contrition in the aftermath of such a high-profile incident," he said in an interview. "Where was the contrition leading up to that point?"
Then there is Montgomery himself.
The county attorney has spent tens of thousands of dollars in recent years to bring in an Islamophobic speaker named John Guandolo for law-enforcement training seminars on the "Jihadi threat."
Guandolo singled out the leaders of Valley mosques by name as members of the terrorist group Hamas or the Muslim Brotherhood.
Muslim leaders in the Valley were outraged. Montgomery defended the training.
But in his statement Thursday, Montgomery said he's been working closely with the Tempe mosque.
"My office places a high emphasis on acting as a partner with our community - building and strengthening relationships with all who reside in our county," Montgomery said.