Man Gets 1 Year for How-To on Explosives
A 20-year-old Sherman Oaks man was sentenced to one year in federal prison Monday for offering recipes on how to make Molotov cocktails and other explosive devices on an anarchist Web site he operated.
Sherman Martin Austin apologized before being sentenced in Los Angeles by U.S. District Judge Stephen V. Wilson, saying he was 18 and naive at the time of the offense and didn’t realize the seriousness of his actions.
Austin’s public defender, the federal prosecutor assigned to the case and the court’s pretrial services office had all recommended a lighter sentence of four months in prison and four months in a halfway house.
Wilson did not explain his decision to impose a stiffer penalty, but at a hearing in June, he said that the prosecution wasn’t taking the case seriously enough. The judge then directed Assistant U.S. Atty. Rodrigo Castro-Silva to run the proposed four-month prison term past the FBI and Justice Department officials in Washington.
At the outset of Monday’s hearing, Castro-Silva told Wilson that the prosecution’s position had not changed, setting the stage for Austin’s sentencing on a single felony count of distributing information related to the manufacture of explosive devices.
Under federal sentencing guidelines, the judge could have sentenced him to a term of eight to 14 months. Deputy federal Public Defender Ronald Kaye, who negotiated Austin’s plea deal with prosecutors, said afterward that he was disappointed by the judge’s decision.
He described his client as “a very peaceful person” who got carried away “in a very heated political environment.”
Austin’s mother, Jennifer, called Wilson shortsighted.
“He doesn’t know my son and he doesn’t know my family,” she said.
Before his arrest in February 2002, Austin had been involved in numerous anti-government protests. According to an FBI report, he was arrested in 2001 during a May Day march in Long Beach and last year during a demonstration in New York against the World Economic Forum.
In the current case, he was charged with instructing visitors to his Web site, www.raisethefist.com, on how to make an assortment of explosive devices, including Molotov cocktails, pipe bombs and smoke bombs.
His attorney said Austin did not write the instructions but allowed someone else to post them on his Web site. FBI agents said Austin told them that he had posted the information to “educate” others on how to counter police brutality.
A clinical psychologist who specializes in threat assessments wrote in a report submitted to the court on behalf of the defense that Austin “does not appear to have seriously considered the ramifications” of his actions “and would have been horrified had someone been injured.”
After completing his prison term, Austin will be placed on three years of court supervision, under which he will need permission from the federal probation office to operate a computer and will be barred from associating with any groups espousing violence to achieve political, economic or social change.
Austin, who remains free on bond, must surrender in 30 days.