A 20-year-old from Bethesda linked to a plot to try to kill then-presidential-candidate Barack Obama was sentenced to 61 months in prison Tuesday by a federal judge who said he had gone well beyond innocent role-playing.
"Nobody was assassinated. Nobody was wounded. Nobody was injured. But you were on the cusp," U.S. District Judge Peter J. Messitte told Collin McKenzie-Gude.
The judge technically sentenced McKenzie-Gude on his earlier guilty plea of storing bomb-making chemicals in his bedroom. But other factors came into play. Prosecutors convinced Messitte that McKenzie-Gude deserved additional prison time because he was plotting to kill Obama during the 2008 campaign, that he had fashioned an attack plan against another student who was possibly going to sell him untraceable guns, and that he had not accepted responsibility for his actions.
"You thought that perhaps you were above all this, and you thought what you could do was beyond reproach. Obviously not true," Messitte said to McKenzie-Gude.
The judge also criticized McKenzie-Gude's parents for giving their only child too much leeway. Inside his second-floor bedroom, in a house just outside the Capital Beltway, McKenzie-Gude stored the chemicals, three semiautomatic rifles, two shotguns and hundreds of rounds of ammunition, including armor-piercing rounds. Police also found assault plans on a computer storage device in the bedroom.
McKenzie-Gude is also scheduled to be sentenced next month in Montgomery County after pleading guilty to attempted carjacking. On July 29, 2008, after learning that police were about to search his bedroom, he went to nearby White Flint Mall and tried to take a car from a 78-year-old man.
"When the going got tough, you panicked, you went out and assaulted an old man and tried to steal his car," Messitte said, adding that he remained concerned about whether McKenzie-Gude could control his impulses. "I don't think you're out of the woods yet."
Moments before Messitte imposed the sentence, McKenzie-Gude stood and spoke for two minutes, his words halting as he wept.
"The saddest part of this situation is that my own actions are responsible," he said. "I cannot tell you how sorry I am. ... I wish only for the chance to rebuild my life in a positive manner."
Steven Kupferberg, McKenzie-Gude's attorney, has said repeatedly that McKenzie-Gude was hardly the dangerous person that police and prosecutors made him out to be. During the four-day sentencing hearing, and aided by letters of support, Kupferberg presented McKenzie-Gude as a mature, bright young man who was fascinated by the kinds of weapons he might use as the anti-terrorism agent he wanted to be.
"I am disappointed with his [Messitte's] perspective on Collin, and his perspective on Collin's parents," Kupferberg said after the hearing.