U.S. District Chief Judge Richard W. Roberts called Corkins’s crime “horrific” and praised Johnson, who was shot in the forearm while subduing Corkins and taking his gun.
“The carnage you wanted did not happen only because an ordinary man showing extraordinary courage stopped you,” Roberts told Corkins before announcing his prison term. “Killing human beings is not political activism. It is criminal behavior.”
Corkins’s crime took on new resonance after a gunman opened fire this week at the Washington Navy Yard, claiming the lives of 12 people.
In arguing for a stiffer sentence of 45 years, federal prosecutors equated Corkins with Aaron Alexis, the man behind Monday’s shooting rampage.
“Mr. Corkins was this close to accomplishing that,” Assistant U.S. Attorney T. Patrick Martin said. “He was no less determined than the Navy Yard gunman. He was no less prepared.”
Corkins, who suffers from chronic mental illness, bought a semiautomatic pistol from a Virginia gun shop six days before the August 2012 shooting. Defense attorney David Bos recommended a sentence of 111
2 years and said the case was about “too easy access to firearms.”
Virginia law prohibits firearm sales to people deemed by a judge to be mentally “incapacitated,” but Corkins had no criminal record.
“There is no question that this is a terrifying case for the victims,” Bos said, adding that Corkins is “deeply remorseful.”
In the most dramatic moment of the hearing, Johnson addressed Corkins directly from the courtroom lectern as more than a dozen of his colleagues from the Family Research Council watched.
Johnson, who has returned to work as the building operations manager, told his assailant: “Although I forgive you, I will never forget. I don’t know if I’ll ever be the same again.”
Corkins told the judge that he was struggling with a lifelong illness and briefly apologized to Johnson and to employees of the conservative think tank.
“Obviously, I disagree with them, but I realize it’s not okay to resort to violence,” said the 29-year-old from Herndon.
In February, Corkins pleaded guilty to three felony charges: a federal charge of transporting a firearm and ammunition across state lines, and D.C. charges of assault with intent to kill and committing an act of terrorism while armed.
Corkins, who volunteered at a gay community center in the District, told investigators that he was angry with organizations he considered anti-gay, such as the Family Research Council and the fast-food chain Chick-fil-A. The head of the restaurant chain had spoken out at the time against same-sex marriage.
In a multimedia presentation in the courtroom, federal prosecutors described Corkins’s planning of the shooting as “deliberate and clear-headed.”