‘MAGA Bomber’ Wants to Retract Guilty Plea

In this courtroom sketch, pipe-bomb suspect Cesar Sayoc raises his arm to swear to the truth of his statement of need for assigned counsel, during his Nov. 6, 2018, presentment in Manhattan Federal Court. Sayoc, who faces charges for allegedly mailing more than a dozen explosive devices to prominent Democrats, CNN and perceived critics of President Donald Trump, has been ordered held without bail in New York. At left is Federal Defender Sarah Baumgartel, while standing far right are U.S. marshals. (Elizabeth Williams via AP)

MANHATTAN (CN) — Admitted mail bomber Cesar Sayoc has retreated from his guilty plea in a letter to the judge presiding over his criminal case, claiming he admitted guilt under “extreme emotional circumstances,” and did not fully comprehend court proceedings.

Sayoc, 57, pleaded guilty on March 21 to sending pipe bombs weeks before last year’s midterm elections to CNN and public figures perceived as critical of President Trump, including Hillary Clinton, former President Barack Obama, Joe Biden, and actor Robert De Niro. The government charged Sayoc with sending 16 improvised explosive devices to 13 targets.

In a letter dated March 23 and addressed to U.S. District Judge Jed Rakoff, Sayoc tried to play down his in-court admission that he knew the pipe bombs could hurt his intended victims. 

“My attorney instructed me to say yes. In my heart I wanted to say no,” Sayoc wrote. “I didn’t have a full understanding of what to say. I answered under extreme emotional circumstances.”

In an order published Tuesday, Rakoff told Sayoc’s attorney and the government to indicate within one week “whether they believe it is necessary for further action to be taken at this time.”

Prosecutor Emil Bove deferred requests for comment to the U.S. Attorney’s Office in the Southern District of New York. Its press office and Sayoc’s attorney Sarah Baumgartel did not immediately respond. 

In the letter, Sayoc wrote that during proceedings he “broke down and cried,” and said that when he returned to jail he had a chance to think over his plea.

“I realized that it was the wrong thing to say, because under no circumstances my intent was to hurt or harm anyone,” he wrote. “The intention was to only intimidate and scare.”

He wrote that he meant to say that the devices were sent as a “hoax” and were not meant to work properly or cause harm. 

“I am forever sincerely in remorse and extremely sorry with all my heart,” the 2-page letter closes.

The FBI arrested Sayoc in Florida in October 2018. His 30-count indictment includes charges of using a weapon of mass destruction, conveying a threat in interstate commerce, and using and carrying a destructive device in furtherance of a crime of violence. If convicted, he could face life in prison. 

When he was arrested, Sayoc was living in a van covered with Trump stickers, with crosshairs drawn over images of prominent Democrats.

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