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Cesar Sayoc, who sent pipe bombs to prominent Democrats, sentenced to 20 years

The Florida man accused of sending mail bombs to CNN offices has pleaded guilty to 65 counts. CNN's Brynn Gingras reports.

Posted: Aug 6, 2019 12:21 PM
Updated: Aug 6, 2019 12:21 PM

Cesar Sayoc, who plead guilty to sending pipe bombs to prominent Democrats and CNN, was sentenced Monday to 20 years in prison followed by five years of supervised release.

Charged with 65 felony counts, Sayoc, 57, faced between 121 months and life in prison. US District Judge Jed Rakoff decided that Sayoc's failure to create bombs that would detonate and harm his targets was "a conscious choice."

"He hated his victims, he wished them no good," said Rakoff, "but he was not so lost as to wish them dead, at least not by his own hand."

Sayoc sent 16 improvised explosive devices (IEDs) to 13 targets over two weeks last October, according to court documents obtained by CNN. His targets included former President Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton, Sens. Cory Booker and Kamala Harris, actor Robert De Niro and major Democratic donors like George Soros and Tom Steyer. None of the devices detonated, and no one was injured.

He has been held without bail since his arrest in October outside a South Florida auto parts store.

"I am beyond so very sorry for what I did," Sayoc said when given the opportunity to address the court at his sentencing hearing.

"Now that I am a sober man, I know I was a very sick man. I should have listened to my mother, the love of my life. She told me to get help," he told the court.

Though he referred to enduring a sexual assault at a Catholic boarding school and having dyslexia, phobias and PTSD, he also said he "fully" accepted responsibility for his actions.

"I am so very sorry to all the victims ... I will be apologizing to them for the rest of my life," he told the court.

His lawyers, led by Sarah Baumgartel of Federal Defenders of New York, Inc., an independent, nonprofit organization, struck a deal with prosecutors to eliminate a charge that would have carried a mandatory life prison sentence when Sayoc entered his guilty plea in March.

That same agreement included Sayoc's sworn statement that he "sent all of the 16 devices with the intent to threaten and intimidate people and with the intent to injure property" and that he "was aware of the risk that [the devices] would explode."

His sentencing date was originally September 12, but Baumgartel convinced Rakoff to agree to an earlier date, explaining that Sayoc was anxious about the matter.

Prosecutors led by US Attorney Geoffrey Berman of the Southern District of New York filed a request in July asking that Sayoc be sentenced to life in prison.

Sayoc's "terrorist attack" was the culmination of years of "hate-filled threats," months of planning and "days of carefully assembling the explosive mailings," according to the prosecution's sentencing memorandum obtained by CNN.

"Cesar Sayoc has now been sentenced for acts of domestic terrorism that are repulsive to all Americans who cherish a society built on respectful and non-violent political discourse," Assistant Attorney General for National Security John C. Demers said in a statement.

"Our democracy depends on our debating our strongly held views peacefully and respectfully, and when someone does not, on our prosecuting and punishing those who do not abide by these values," he added.

Each of Sayoc's packages contained a photograph of the intended victim with a red X placed over the face and added "black flags similar in appearance to banners used by ISIS and other foreign terrorist organizations," according to the prosecution.

Sayoc's IEDs included not only explosive powder from fireworks, but also shards of glass, pool chemicals and other ingredients intended to maximize potential injuries, the memorandum stated.

While there is "no dispute" Sayoc's IEDs would not function as designed, they "were dangerous, capable of causing extensive harm, and responsible for shutting down parts of several major metropolitan areas, including train stations, schools, and postal facilities," according to the memorandum.

In their plea for leniency, his attorneys described Sayoc as "born with cognitive limitations and severe learning disabilities." His attorneys also wrote that "a series of traumatic events pushed [him] further and further into the margins of society." These events include his father's abandonment, sexual molestation by a teacher, family estrangement and dependence on drugs, particularly steroids, they stated in court document.

By the time he committed his offenses, "he was living alone in a decrepit and cramped van that had been his home for more than a decade," his lawyers wrote.

"In this darkness, Mr. Sayoc found light in Donald J. Trump," his attorneys wrote. "He came to believe that he was being personally targeted for supporting Trump: Mr. Sayoc thought that anti-Trump forces were trying to hurt him and they were to blame when his van was vandalized."

Sayoc believed he was sending "a hoax device, and he had no true grasp of the severity of his crimes or the potential ramifications of his actions," according to his lawyers: "Now, nearly a year later, he understands how deeply wrong his actions were, and he is truly sorry for sending these packages."

Baumgartel requested the judge sentence Sayoc to just 121 months in prison as "no significant additional prison time" is "necessary to meet the goals of sentencing."

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