A federal judge had a message Tuesday for a young Maryland man accused of plotting to kill President Barack Obama when he was a candidate: You're not in a fantasy.
Collin McKenzie-Gude, 20, of Bethesda was sentenced to more than five years in federal prison and three years supervised release. He pleaded guilty in September to possession of a destructive device.
His sentencing hearing began last week and ran into Tuesday. Prosecutors described how he stored large amounts of chemicals, ammunition and assault weapons in his bedroom. Authorities also found a fake CIA badge and a map of the Washington area with markings for a presidential motorcade route when they searched his home in July 2008.
"This was a serious offense" with serious weapons capable of "great destructiveness," Judge Peter J. Messitte said.
Messitte said McKenzie-Gude led a "dual life" passing himself off as a bright young man who adults considered mature and polite, yet secretly stockpiled weapons and devised elaborate assault plans. He said the young man had "fantastic ideas" about military and government operations that were "totally disconnected with reality."
"You've been told how smart you are and you're not," Messitte said. "You're living some fantasy life."
The boyish-faced McKenzie-Gude, in a collared shirt and red tie, stood before the judge and said he regretted his actions. "I cannot tell you how sorry I am," he said.
He cried as he described how the period since his arrest has been "the worst time," especially being "torn apart from a family who loves me very dearly."
McKenzie-Gude said he wants to rebuild his life and return to his family. "I apologize for my emotional state," he said.
The judge said there are others out there like him, fascinated by weapons, who must learn the serious consequences for destructive plans and even discussions that they might consider fantasy.
"The real world doesn't work that way," Messitte said. Young boys "shouldn't think for a minute this is play-acting" or a video game.
Messitte said although nobody was killed, McKenzie-Gude was "on the cusp" of carrying out assassinations. He said McKenzie-Gude's attempt to carjack a 78-year-old man the day authorities searched his home, gave the judge reason to believe McKenzie-
Gude couldn't control his impulses in possession of dangerous weapons.
The judge also blamed McKenzie-Gude's parents for their role, such as buying him ammunition.
McKenzie-Gude's parents testified before the sentencing and said their son long expressed an interest in joining the military or CIA. His mother, Debra McKenzie-Gude, said she was an Obama supporter. His father, Joseph Gude, said his son was allowed to use guns and ammunition kept at the house.
"I see Collin and still do as a young man anxious to get to his career," Gude said.
Patrick Yevsukov, 18, a former friend of McKenzie-Gude and key government witness, testified last week that he had given chemicals to McKenzie-Gude and the two detonated explosive devices at his home. He also pleaded guilty to possession of a destructive device and faces sentencing in coming weeks.
The judge said McKenzie-Gude had no good reason for possessing armor-piercing ammunition and had a serious plan to assassinate Obama that was interrupted by his arrest. "He was talking big" about it to Yevsukov and took some steps toward making it happen, Messitte said.
"You're responsible for what you do say," said Messitte, who added that McKenzie-Gude must learn that he can't back off from dangerous statements and claim they were just a plan.
Prosecutors had asked for a six-and-a-half year sentence for McKenzie-Gude, but Messitte gave him credit for the 17 months he's already been in custody.
Defense attorneys stressed the role Yevsukov and his father had in influencing McKenzie-Gude, such as providing him with chemicals and detonating devices with him. They also said Yevsukov lacks credibility and gave inconsistent statements.
His attorneys also said McKenzie-Gude's interest in developing assault and defense plans may strike others as odd, but he was merely engaging in role-play and had a fascination with creating official-looking military and government documents.
McKenzie-Gude faces sentencing for the carjacking charge in Montgomery County next month.