Yonathan Melaku, a former Marine reservist who shot at multiple military sites in Northern Virginia, was sentenced on Friday to 25 years in prison.
As part of a plea agreement, Melaku, 25, of Alexandria, pleaded guilty last year to three counts and admitted shooting at the Pentagon, recruiting sites in Woodbridge and Chantilly, the U.S. Marine Corps Heritage Museum in Triangle, and the National Museum in Triangle over a one-month period in 2010.
District Judge Gerald Bruce Lee called the case "a bizarre set of facts for a former Marine," and said that the activity might indeed be "the product of mental illness." Melaku was recently diagnosed as schizophrenic and his lawyers had called for a review of the plea agreement. Lee said that by shooting at targets late at night and in the early morning hours, Melaku showed he was aware of right and wrong, despite his illness.
"If your goal was to humiliate and cause fear in the public, you did that," Lee told Melaku.
Melaku did not say much publicly at the sentencing other than to request placement at Butler Federal Corrections Center in North Carolina. There he could receive treatment for his illness and have frequent family visits. Lee did recommend that he be sent to this prison.
Officers found Melaku at Arlington National Cemetery in June 2011, near the area set aside for graves of Iraq and Afghanistan war veterans. Authorities said that he intended to desecrate the graves by spray-painting them with Arabic statements. Melaku told officers that he planned to leave ammonium nitrate there to instill fear in the public.
Melaku's lawyer read a statement from his client's parents, who called their son "good at heart and kind to everyone." They said that when he was growing up in Ethiopia he would always ask to give money to poor people. He became "a different person" when he left the Marines.
"Your honor, my son is sick. He is not a terrorist," the parents said in the statement.
Lee said that the shootings—which never hurt anyone but did occur at several occupied buildings—were calculated to make people remember the D.C. sniper attacks.
"A terrorist instills fear. And that's what you did," Lee said.