NEW YORK (AP) — A Florida amateur body builder who admitted sending pipe bombs to prominent Democrats and CNN was sentenced to 20 years in prison Monday by a judge who concluded the bombs purposely were not designed to explode.
Cesar Sayoc, 57, wept and crossed himself, appearing relieved, when U.S. District Judge Jed S. Rakoff announced the sentence.
Prosecutors had urged a life prison term for Sayoc, who pleaded guilty earlier this year after mailing 16 pipe bombs days before the midterm elections last fall.
“He hated his victims, he wished them no good, but he was not so lost as to wish them dead, at least not by his own hand,” the judge said.
The one-time stripper and pizza delivery man from Aventura, Florida, apologized to his victims, saying he was “so very sorry for what I did.”
His targets included Hillary Clinton, former Vice President Joe Biden, several members of Congress, former President Barack Obama and actor Robert De Niro. Devices were also mailed to CNN offices in New York and Atlanta.
Assistant Federal Defender Marcus Amelkin said Sayoc was obsessed with President Donald Trump and grew to believe Democrats were to blame for damage to his van, which was plastered with Trump stickers and images of crosshairs superimposed over the faces of Trump opponents. Sayoc “looked up to the president as a father figure,” the lawyer said.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Jane Kim said Sayoc “set out to terrorize people” and had not sufficiently shown remorse.
“Politics cannot justify a terrorist attack,” she said, while the judge dismissed talk of Trump as a “side show.”
Assistant Attorney General John Demers, the head of the Justice Department’s national security division, said in a statement that “time and again, we have seen individuals attempt to express political views and resolve political disagreements through violence.
“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,” Demers said. “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.”
Sayoc read from a hand-written statement shortly before he was sentenced, saying he blamed a life of mental illness, a childhood sexual assault he suffered from a boarding school teacher, excessive use of steroids and his failure to listen to his mother, “the love of my life.”
“I was in deep denial. I understand now that I have committed a very serious crime,” Sayoc said.
“I wish more than anything I could turn back time and take back what I did,” he added. “With all my heart and soul, I feel the pain and suffering of these victims and I will be apologizing to them for the rest of my life.”
Prior to hearing from lawyers, Rakoff questioned two bomb experts and two doctors who examined Sayoc.
The bomb experts, one an FBI agent, and one hired by the defense, agreed Sayoc’s packages were not configured to explode. As the judge noted, the clocks were not set and wires were not attached.
The psychiatric experts who examined Sayoc at the request of the defense agreed that steroids influenced his behavior, particularly his delusions and obsessions.
In all, 16 rudimentary pipe bombs were mailed to addresses in New York, New Jersey, Delaware, California, Washington, D.C., and Atlanta, Georgia. None exploded.
In letters to the judge, Sayoc has said he abused steroids for more than four decades and was using 274 different supplements and vitamins along with “heavy amounts of steroids” before his arrest.
He wrote that before he mailed explosives, his idea “first was how to tone down the liberal left violence platform.” He wrote that he believed prominent Democrats were encouraging violence, saying he had been attacked personally — including as he returned to his hotel after attending Trump’s inauguration.
He was living in his van when arrested in late October.
Explaining his crimes, he said he was never political until he was looking at Facebook on his phone one day when “Donald J. Trump popped up ...” He likened attending a Trump rally to taking drugs.
In one letter he wrote: “I was getting so wrapped up in this new-found fun drug.”