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U.S. v. HORTON

December 11, 1995

UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, PLAINTIFF,
v.
MAURICE HORTON, DEFENDANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Richard Mills, District Judge:

OPINION

I. BACKGROUND

Maurice Horton was a "copycat".

He made a false bomb threat to destroy the Paul Findley Federal Building in Springfield, Illinois, one day after a very real and very large bomb all but destroyed the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma.

At 1:00 p.m., Horton entered the Mayor's office of the City of Springfield and asked to see the Mayor. The Mayor's secretary told Horton that the Mayor was unavailable. Horton then told the Mayor's secretary that "there has been a bomb threat at the Federal Building and they closed the door." At 1:09 p.m. Horton placed a telephone call from a pay phone in the Municipal Building to the United States Marshal's office in the Findley Federal Building. Horton told the court security officer who answered the telephone that "one is going to go off in fifteen minutes." At 1:10 p.m. two Springfield city employees saw Horton at the pay telephone on the third floor of the Municipal building.

Predictably, the Findley Federal Building was evacuated, sealed, and searched. The building houses fourteen government agencies, including courts, law enforcement agencies, and social service agencies. As a result of the evacuation, the Findley Federal Building was closed for the remainder of the work day, resulting in the loss of over 400 work hours (the building houses approximately 123 employees). Federal, state, and local law enforcement agencies secured the building and searched it for the nonexistent explosive device. Additionally, members of the public wishing to do business with any of the fourteen agencies housed in the Findley Building were prohibited from doing so for the remainder of the day.

The Grand Jury indicted Horton on two counts. Count I charged Horton with willfully and maliciously conveying false information "knowing the same to be false, concerning an attempt and alleged attempt being made, and to be made, unlawfully to damage and destroy the Paul Findley Federal Building by means of explosive. . . ." Count II charged Horton with making false statements to Special Agents of the Federal Bureau of Investigation during their investigation of the bomb threat.

Horton pleaded guilty to Count I, admitting that he violated 18 U.S.C. § 844(e), which carries a maximum penalty of 5 years imprisonment.

On November 13, 1995, this Court sentenced Horton on Count I to 40 months imprisonment, to be followed by 3 years of supervised release.*fn1 At the time of sentencing, the Government moved to dismiss Count II.

II. APPLICATION OF THE GUIDELINES

This case was difficult for the sentencing court. While the conduct in this case was very serious, the parties — both the defendant and the government — sought only minimal punishment. The Sentencing Guidelines also seem to recommend an unreasonably light sentence. But Defendant pleaded guilty to an offense carrying a maximum penalty of 5 years imprisonment and the Court is obliged to see that he receives just punishment.*fn2

A. Guidelines Provisions

The starting point in sentencing is always the Sentencing Guidelines. Section 2A6.1 provides a base offense level of 12 for violations of 18 U.S.C. § 844(e). The Guidelines further provide that "[i]f the offense involved any conduct evidencing an intent to carry out such threat, increase by 6 levels." U.S.S.G. § 2A6.1(b)(1). If, however, "specific offense characteristic § 2A6.1(b)(1) does not apply, and the offense involved a single instance evidencing little or no deliberation, decrease by 4 levels." Id. § 2A6.1(b)(2). To determine the proper final offense level, the Court must decide whether either of the two special criteria described in the Guidelines are present.

In the Presentence Investigation Report (PSR), the probation officer concluded that Horton's offense level should be 6. The probation officer reached this conclusion by granting a 4 level reduction because the parties' plea agreement stated that the offense evidenced little or no deliberation. The probation officer also granted Horton a 2 level reduction for acceptance of responsibility. U.S.S.G. ยง 3E1.1(a). Horton's ...


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