Attempted Bomber Cesar Sayoc Gets 20 Years In Prison

Cesar Sayoc, the man who started a panic in October when he sent apparent explosive devices to a number of President Trump's critics, has been sentenced to 20 years in prison

Cesar Sayoc, the man who mailed pipe bombs to various political and media critics of the President before finally being caught in October, has been sentenced to 20 years in prison for his crimes:

Cesar A. Sayoc Jr., the fervent supporter of President Trump who rattled the nation last fall when he sent homemade pipe bombs to former President Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton and other prominent Democrats, was sentenced on Monday to 20 years in prison.

Mr. Sayoc pleaded guilty in March to mailing 16 bombs to people he considered to be Mr. Trump’s enemies. The F.B.I. said the devices were packed with powder from fireworks, fertilizer, a pool chemical and glass fragments that would function as shrapnel, but they would not have worked as designed.

In the end, the flaws in the bombs’ design were critical to a federal judge’s decision to give Mr. Sayoc 20 years in prison rather than the life sentence prosecutors requested. The judge, Jed S. Rakoff of Federal District Court in Manhattan, said he had concluded that Mr. Sayoc, though no firearms expert, was capable of concocting a pipe bomb that could explode and had consciously chosen not to.

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

Though the timing was coincidental, the sentencing came as the nation was on edge after the weekend’s back-to-back mass shootings, one of which appeared to have been inspired by anti-immigrant rhetoric from right-wing pundits and politicians, including Mr. Trump.

On Monday morning, Mr. Trump gave a national address in which he denounced white supremacists and said hatred had no place in the country. He promised the government would do more to keep guns out of the hands of the mentally ill.

Still, the president has a long history of making inflammatory statements not just about immigrants, but about his political opponents. Mr. Sayoc’s lawyers said their client was particularly susceptible to those ideas.

Indeed, the lawyers argued in a recent court filing that Mr. Sayoc, 57, suffered from a long- untreated mental illness and drew inspiration from the president for his terror campaign.

“He was a Donald Trump superfan,” they wrote.

During the sentencing, however, Judge Rakoff said Mr. Sayoc’s politics were “something of a sideshow.” Instead, the judge said the design flaws in the bombs — including timers that were not set to go off and fuse wiring that was inoperable — indicated that Mr. Sayoc had only intended to scare his victims, not harm them.

Before he was sentenced, Mr. Sayoc read a handwritten statement, apologizing. “I wish more than anything I could turn back time and take back what I did,” he said. “But I want you to know, your honor, with all my heart and soul, I feel the pain and suffering of these victims.”

As the judge announced the sentence, Mr. Sayoc broke into sobs, resting his head in his hands clasped on the table before him. Then he looked up at the ceiling and mouthed, “Thank you.”

Geoffrey S. Berman, the United States attorney in Manhattan, said after the sentencing that although “thankfully no one was hurt by his actions, Sayoc’s domestic terrorism challenged our nation’s cherished tradition of peaceful political discourse.”

Mr. Sayoc’s lawyers, who are federal public defenders, had no comment.

Mr. Sayoc’s terror campaign and the frenzied investigation that followed seized the nation for two weeks in October, just before the midterm elections. After a four-day manhunt, Mr. Sayoc was arrested outside an auto-parts store near Fort Lauderdale, Fla., where he was living in a decrepit white van that was plastered with bombastic stickers that glorified Mr. Trump and placed Mr. Obama and Mrs. Clinton in red cross-hairs.

Mr. Sayoc’s lawyers had urged Judge Rakoff to impose a prison sentence of 10 years, which would have been the mandatory minimum Mr. Sayoc faced, plus one month.

At the time of his arrest, they said, Mr. Sayoc was suffering from the untreated mental illness, compounded by excessive steroid use, and he had become increasingly obsessive, isolated and paranoid.

“In this darkness,” the lawyers wrote in a sentencing memo, “Mr. Sayoc found light in Donald J. Trump.”

Mr. Sayoc listened to Mr. Trump’s self-help books and championed him on social media. He watched Fox News religiously while working out at the gym

“Because of Mr. Sayoc’s mental illness, this type of rhetoric deeply affected him because he so greatly admired the president,” one of Mr. Sayoc’s lawyers, Ian Marcus Amelkin, said in court. “It is impossible, I believe, to separate the political climate and his mental illness.”

Last fall, Mr. Sayoc’s lawyers wrote, the “slow-boil of Mr. Sayoc’s political obsessions and delusional beliefs” led him to build and send his 16 packages to 13 intended victims he considered to be Mr. Trump’s enemies. In Mr. Sayoc’s mind, the devices were “designed to look like pipe bombs,” his lawyers said, but they were a hoax to scare his targets.

Each device consisted of plastic pipe with a digital alarm clock and attached wires. An F.B.I. explosives expert, Kevin D. Finnerty, testified at the sentencing the devices would not have functioned as designed, but were capable of exploding if mishandled.

Under Federal Sentencing Guidelines, Sayoc could have faced life in prison plus ten years for his crimes even though none of his devices exploded and they were apparently designed not to work at all, This doesn’t negate Sayoc’s criminal culpability, of course, nor does it negate the terror that Sayoc inflicted on both his intended victims and others, such as postal workers, who could have been victims had his device actually worked. The fact that his devices were designed in such a way that they would never have worked still means he is liable under the statute(s) his charges arose from. As such, it was appropriate that he was charged as if the purported pipe bombs were designed to work, which could have resulted in the death or injury of hundreds of people.

Judge Rafkoff, who was appointed to the bench by Bill Clinton in 1996 and has been a Senior Judge since 2010, decided that Sayoc deserved at least some credit for the fact that the bombs were not designed to work, but merely to frighten people. Because of that, Sayoc received a sentence of roughly double the ten years that his lawyers were asking for in the Sentencing Memorandum they filed on his behalf. Also working in Sayoc’s favor was the fact that he had chosen to plead guilty back in March and take responsibility for his crimes, Generally speaking, the Federal Sentencing Guidelines give defendants significant credit for pleading guilty rather than taking a case to trial only to be convicted. Taking all this into account, it seems to me that 20 years is an appropriate sentence. As I’ve noted before the Federal prison system does not have parole or probation per se but inmates can receive credit for good behavior and achieving other goals while in prison up to a limit of roughly 54 days per year of their sentence. This means that Sayoc, if he does okay in prison, could be out after roughly 17-18 years. In either case, Sayoc will be in his late 70s before he is released from prison.

FILED UNDER: Crime, Law and the Courts
Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug holds a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May 2010. Before joining OTB, he wrote at Below The BeltwayThe Liberty Papers, and United Liberty Follow Doug on Twitter | Facebook

Comments

  1. Kathy says:

    I kind of expect this guy to turn into a MAGA martyr. They can claim he didn’t actually hurt anyone, and thus any jail time is unfair. Like Sideshow bob did way back when: “Attempted murder. Now honestly what is that? Can you win a Nobel Prize for attempted chemistry?”

  2. KM says:

    was capable of concocting a pipe bomb that could explode and had consciously chosen not to.

    Mr. Sayoc had only intended to scare his victims, not harm them.

    This is an utter load of grade-A bullshit. He sent bombs in the mail. Bombs as in the plural. He went out of his way to construct something designed to hurt and kill to people he didn’t like more them once. This isn’t scare tactics, it’s an intentional attempt to do harm!

    What the hell is going on with judges lately that they are giving weaker sentences because they emphasize with the victim’s lies? By all means, give him less time because he actually didn’t kill anyone but to actually buy he never intended harm with mail bombs?! All this is going to do is encourage someone to build something “intentionally flawed” but still manages to be functional. “Your Honor, the intentional flaws clearly demonstrate no serious intention to kill. The dead people just managed to make it work somehow against the odds – it’s their fault they’re dead since these weren’t meant to work! The fact that bombs go boom cannot be held against my client if they don’t mean to do it in their heart!!”

  3. mattbernius says:

    @KM:
    This type of ongoing moral outrage is exactly why we lead the world in mass incarceration. And the reality is that this moral outrage is one of those topics that tends to unite progressives and conservatives in the desire to punish.

  4. Daryl and his brother Darryl says:

    @KM:
    @mattbernius:
    My initial reaction was akin to KM’s…but I think Matt is correct.
    Sayoc got more than the minimum mandatory. He’s going to be 70-something when he gets out. And I will add my own personal opinion, that the heart of the problem is not Sayoc but the big Orange Turd on the White House floor.

  5. gVOR08 says:

    It may be that Sayoc told the cops up front that the bombs were deliberate duds. Maybe the defense presented evidence the bombs were designed as duds. But so far, the news stories I’ve seen present deliberate non function as something the judge divined somehow. As long as that’s the case, I’m with @KM:

  6. Raoul says:

    Definitely not defending the guy but 20 years is a long fricking time for a prank gone awry. The amount of time we imprisoned people in this country is frankly ridiculous.

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  7. KM says:

    @mattbernius:

    This type of ongoing moral outrage is exactly why we lead the world in mass incarceration.

    Way to conflate unrelated issues. He was going to jail anyway for, you know, mailing bombs to people not having a joint or two. Working or not, that’s something that society can’t let slide as it is an intentional threat to people’s lives. It’s not a “joke” or a “political statement” – it’s a very clear message that you have to twist yourself in pretzels to claim isn’t intentionally violent. Even if the US was the kindest nation with minimal prison population, he wasn’t getting a pass.

    Notice I didn’t complain about the length of his sentence but rather that the judge accepted the notion that @Kathy pointed out: nobody got hurt and he didn’t mean to hurt anyone. On the face of it, that’s a stunning decision that flies in the face of what happened. It wasn’t like he mailed an empty case that just *looked* like a bomb, he sent flammable and dangerous items that could have hurt someone even if it didn’t explode on purpose. If I mail a blunt knife or unloaded gun to someone, can I claim it’s not a threat because it can’t hurt you by my design choice?

    I think his sentence is appropriate given no injuries occurred. Baring evidence otherwise, I think the judge was wildly reaching using the justification that “no intended harm” was legit. Rather then accepting the more likely fact that he had no idea what he was doing and picked a bad design, they spun it to “oh, he didn’t mean any harm”. It defies logic and facts in evidence. It also sets up a bad precedent that you can essentially blame your victims for what happened to them since your “design” wasn’t meant to harm and thus it must have been them that caused it.

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  8. mattbernius says:

    @KM:

    Way to conflate unrelated issues. He was going to jail anyway for, you know, mailing bombs to people not having a joint or two.

    Nope, these are fundamentally not unrelated issues.

    There are at the core of our overly punitive system. The reality is we way over-punish violent offenders compared to peer nations. And if we want to solve mass incarceration, then we need to deal with violent crimes in addition to drug crimes.

    The typical liberal dodge is “it’s all about for-profit prisons and drug crimes” — the reality is even if we immediately eliminated those we would still lead the world in over-incarceration by a huge factor.

    I think his sentence is appropriate given no injuries occurred.

    I am having a real problem resolving that above statement with:

    What the hell is going on with judges lately that they are giving weaker sentences because they emphasize with the victim’s lies?

    So is this a “weak” sentence or an “appropriate” one?

    And then:

    Rather then accepting the more likely fact that he had no idea what he was doing and picked a bad design, they spun it to “oh, he didn’t mean any harm”. It defies logic and facts in evidence. It also sets up a bad precedent that you can essentially blame your victims for what happened to them since your “design” wasn’t meant to harm and thus it must have been them that caused it.

    And we’re back on the path to over-incarceration because of moral outrage that a judge got something wrong.

    Everyone is all for lowering our incarceration rates, just not for the case that they care about.

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  9. Gustopher says:

    @KM:

    It also sets up a bad precedent that you can essentially blame your victims for what happened to them since your “design” wasn’t meant to harm and thus it must have been them that caused it.

    Had one of his deliberately nonfunctional bombs exploded due to rough handling in a mail sorting machine, and killed people in a post office, I have no doubt that he would have gotten the maximum sentence on these charges, and been charged with murder.

    The defense may have argued that the bombs were designed to never go off, and they might have gotten the murder down from first degree by attacking the intent requirement.

    It’s not setting up a precedent for victim blaming.

    If anything, it’s setting up a non-legally-binding-pr precedent that if you are going to commit domestic terrorism, if you stop short of attempting to hurt people, and you get lucky enough that no one is hurt, you will someday, see the light of day again. Seems like a not horrible idea.

    @Raoul:

    Definitely not defending the guy but 20 years is a long fricking time for a prank gone awry.

    Mailing explosives is not a prank. It’s deliberate, pre-meditated terrorism.

    A prank is something dumb/brilliant you do that is not deliberately designed to cause terror.

  10. mattbernius says:

    @Raoul:

    Definitely not defending the guy but 20 years is a long fricking time for a prank gone awry.

    Jebus, seriously?! I think the sentence is fair given the scope and reach of this particular exercise. I wouldn’t have gone higher. That said, characterizing this as a prank gone awry is absolute bullshit.

    Or rather, if you seriously consider this a prank, that really says more about how eff’d up your sense of humor is than anything else.

  11. Gustopher says:

    As I’ve noted before the Federal prison system does not have parole or probation per se but inmates can receive credit for good behavior and achieving other goals while in prison up to a limit of roughly 54 days per year of their sentence. This means that Sayoc, if he does okay in prison, could be out after roughly 17-18 years. In either case, Sayoc will be in his late 70s before he is released from prison.

    The lack of a proper probation system is a huge mistake. This is someone who really should be checking in regularly with his probation officer for the next twenty years after he is released, to make sure he is not living in a van covered in stickers advocating violence, etc. You know, those little subtle warning signs that might mean he needs mental help.

  12. steve says:

    A prank would be sending empty tubes attached to an alarm clock. Something that couldn’t hurt anyone even if there were an accident, say a fire. Once you put real gunpowder in it you are beyond a prank. I think the sentence is pretty reasonable.

    Steve

  13. Raoul says:

    To be clear the sentence would be more than appropriate if the was a real intent to do harm but according to the judge that was not the case. Now many seem to think the judge was wrong and I certainly don’t have the case file to know why the judge said what he said but I do take the record at face value.

  14. mattbernius says:

    @Raoul:

    To be clear the sentence would be more than appropriate if the was a real intent to do harm but according to the judge that was not the case.

    So a hotly debated topic in the criminal justice space is how to cope with the “dangerous” of actions. So for example, in the case of a DWI/DUI no one is harmed, nor is the driver involved necessarily intending to be harmed — but part of the reason for the lack of harm is a simple issue of luck – they didn’t hit anyone this time.

    Same with burglary — breaking and entering into a building is a dangerous activity because they individual has no way of knowing for sure if the space is empty.

    In this case, while the devices were not armed, he still intentionally shipped *16* explosive devices (all contained the necessary powder to explode, just not the triggers) through the mail and threatened people with white powder. That is a fundamentally dangerous act.

    He didn’t need to draw a larger sentence. But your pretending this was a “prank” is patently absurd as well.

  15. Just nutha ignint cracker says:

    @gVOR08: For me, the key is the testimony from the bomb guy who noted that while they were built not to explode they were capable of blowing up through mishap. The difference between making a “fake” car bomb with a block of modeling clay and 4 sticks of C-4, if you will allow. Since I’m no longer a tough “law and order conservative,” I find that I can’t bring myself to see this as a failure of justice. 2o seems longish to me (especially considering his age), but I got no dog in that fight; the court has the right to bring its will to fruition.