Donald Trump’s inflammatory rhetoric contributed to Cesar Sayoc’s spree of mail-based attacks on the president’s critics, the man’s lawyer told the judge at a sentencing hearing on Monday. Judge Jed Rakoff sentenced Sayoc, 57, to 20 years in prison.
Sayoc has been charged by the federal government for sending mail bombs to top Democratic political figures and CNN, all targets of the president’s ire, last year. None of the explosive devices detonated, but the FBI concluded the bombs were not intended as hoaxes. During the sentencing Monday, prosecutors argued that has Sayoc intended to send hoax bombs, he could have filled the devices with sand rather than glass. And FBI technician, though, noted that there was only a small chance that the devices, as configured, would explode.
Rakoff concluded that Sayoc did not intend for the bombs to detonate, because he was “fully capable” of creating explosive devices. Nevertheless, he believed they were sent with the intent to terrorize his victims.
Ian Marcus, Sayoc’s defense attorney, argued that his client suffered from mental illness and the detrimental effects of steroid use that contributed to his attacks.
In his vulnerable state, Sayoc began reading self-help books.
“In particular, the books with Donald Trump really resonated with him,” Marcus said. He became obsessed with Trump, and he fell into the dark world of conspiracy theories and disinformation. He became “deranged,” Marcus said.
“We believe that the president’s rhetoric contributed to Mr. Sayoc’s actions in this offense,” he added. Marcus added that the Justice Department hasn’t made much of this fact in the case — noting that the lawyers ultimately report to the executive branch, which is led by the president.
“Politics cannot justify a terrorist attack,” said Jane Kim, an attorney for the government.
Sayoc himself spoke during the hearing, claiming that his mental illness drove him to commit the attacks.