MIAMI (AP) — A Florida man will be hospitalized in federal custody for psychiatric treatment and likely serve 25 years in prison for plotting to bomb a synagogue and Jewish school center during Passover last year, a judge ruled Tuesday.
James Medina, 41, pleaded guilty this year to a religious hate crime and attempting to use a weapon of mass destruction, which was actually a fake bomb provided by an FBI informant. He could have received life in prison, but prosecutors and Medina's attorney worked out an agreement that was accepted by U.S. District Judge Robert Scola.
Defense lawyer Hector Dopico said at a hearing that serious mental illness, in addition to brain damage from a 2007 car accident, were the main factors behind Medina's plot to blow up the Aventura Turnberry Jewish Center. FBI recordings showed that Medina, a Muslim convert, claimed allegiance to the Islamic State extremist group and said he had an obligation to attack Jews in the U.S.
"This is one of those heartbreaking cases where there was an organic cause for the criminality," Dopico said.
In brief remarks to the judge, Medina said he needs help for his illnesses and that he made a huge mistake by going forward with the Jewish center plot.
"I lost my mind. I lashed out," he said.
Under the agreement, if Medina completes hospital treatment successfully, he would return to court and have the 25-year sentence formally imposed, Scola said. It's possible he could still get the maximum life sentence, but the judge said he favors the shorter prison term. His time in the hospital would count toward the total sentence.
"It makes clear what the intention of this court is on this date," the judge said. "This is a very, very serious offense. There has to be a significant sentence."
According to the FBI, Medina initially envisioned using AK-47-style weapons to shoot up the Jewish center, which has about 800 congregant families. Several conversations about the plot were recorded by an informant, identified only as a "confidential human source" by the FBI.
Medina was quoted as saying in one of the recordings that he wanted to "strike back at the Jews" and that "It's a war man, and it's like, it's time to strike back here in America."
"When I am doing this, I feel that I'm doing it for a good cause for Allah," Medina said.
It was the informant who suggested switching to a bomb plot, which the FBI agents could more easily control, investigators previously testified. At the time, Medina was living with two other men in Hollywood, Florida, and one of them possessed an AK-47 rifle, according to the FBI.
Investigators also said Medina wanted to create a leaflet to be left at the scene in which he would claim the attack was traced to Islamic State. There's no evidence the group was actually linked to Medina, but he told the informant that the leaflet would "make it look like it's ISIS (Islamic State) here in America. Just like that."
Medina was arrested after accepting the dummy bomb from the informant near the Jewish center.