A federal judge on Tuesday sentenced a man to 39 years in prison for firebombing a Jewish temple and later trying to send a racist letter to the congregation. The defendant raised his hand in a stiff-armed Nazi salute as the judge left the court.
Sean Gillespie, 21, of Spokane, Wash., was found guilty in April of three bombing-related charges for hurling a Molotov cocktail at Temple B’Nai Israel a year earlier. The act, which caused minor damage to a brick wall and a glass door, was captured on a security videotape.
Gillespie’s sentence was lengthened because of the letter he attempted to send to the temple after his conviction. The letter, which was read in court, expressed hatred toward the Jewish people and a desire to spark a racial holy war.
Temple B’Nai Israel’s Rabbi Barry Cohen said the attack sparked fear and anger among temple members.
“There was little physical damage to the building, but there was clear psychological damage,” Cohen said. “In this country, we can’t be afraid in our places of worship. That’s just not acceptable.”
Gillespie, who once belonged to the white supremacist group Aryan Nations, asked Judge Robin Cauthron for leniency on grounds he had a troubled childhood.
‘An act of violence’
Federal sentencing guidelines called for a minimum of 30 years in prison, but Cauthron said a greater sentence was warranted, citing the letter and the nature of Gillespie’s crime.
“What you’ve done is not an act of vandalism, it’s an act of violence,” Cauthron said.
Elsewhere Tuesday, a federal grand jury indictment unsealed in Eugene, Ore., charged three men with various crimes after rocks engraved with Nazi symbols were thrown through windows at a synagogue during a service in 2002.
Two brothers — Jacob A. Laskey, 25, and Gabriel D. Laskey, 20 — and Gerald A. Poundstone, 27, all were charged with conspiracy to violate civil rights. Jacob Laskey faces other charges including solicitation relating to attempts to kill potential witnesses.
Trial was set for Oct. 26.
Prosecutor William Fitzgerald said the case remains under investigation.