By Dan Morse
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, January 20, 2010; B02
A 20-year-old Bethesda man linked to a plot to try to kill Barack Obama was sentenced to 61 months in prison Tuesday by a federal judge who said he had gone well beyond innocent role-playing.
"Nobody was assassinated. Nobody was wounded. Nobody was injured. But you were on the cusp," U.S. District Judge Peter J. Messitte told Collin McKenzie-Gude.
The judge technically sentenced McKenzie-Gude on his earlier guilty plea of storing bomb-making chemicals in his bedroom. But other factors came into play. Prosecutors convinced Messitte that McKenzie-Gude deserved additional prison time because he was plotting to kill Obama during the 2008 presidential campaign, that he had fashioned an attack plan against another student who was possibly going to sell him untraceable guns, and that he had not accepted responsibility for his actions.
"You thought that perhaps you were above all this, and what you thought you could do was beyond reproach. Absolutely not true," Messitte told McKenzie-Gude.
The judge also criticized McKenzie-Gude's parents for giving their only child too much leeway. Inside his second-floor bedroom, in a house just outside the Capital Beltway, McKenzie-Gude stored the chemicals, three semiautomatic rifles, two shotguns and hundreds of rounds of ammunition, including armor-piercing rounds. Police also found assault plans on a computer storage device in the bedroom.
McKenzie-Gude is scheduled to be sentenced next month in Montgomery County after pleading guilty to attempted carjacking. On July 29, 2008, after learning that police were about to search his bedroom, he went to nearby White Flint mall and tried to take a car from a 78-year-old man.
"When the going got tough, you panicked, you went out and assaulted an old man and tried to steal his car," Messitte said, adding that he remained concerned about whether McKenzie-Gude could control his impulses. "I don't know whether you're out of the woods yet or not."
Moments before Messitte imposed the sentence, McKenzie-Gude stood and spoke for two minutes, his words halting as he wept.
"The saddest part of the situation is that my own actions are responsible," he said. "I cannot tell you how sorry I am. . . . I wish only for the chance to be able to rebuild my life in a positive manner."
Steven Kupferberg, McKenzie-Gude's attorney, will try to persuade the sentencing judge in Montgomery County to not add jail time. Messitte said McKenzie-Gude deserved 78 months for the explosives charge, but gave him credit for the 17 months he has served since his arrest.
During that time, Kupferberg has said repeatedly that McKenzie-Gude is not the dangerous person that police and prosecutors have made him out to be. During the four-day sentencing hearing, and aided by letters of support, Kupferberg presented McKenzie-Gude as a mature, bright young man who was fascinated by the kinds of weapons he might use as the antiterrorism agent he wanted to be.
"I am disappointed with his [Messitte's] perspective on Collin, and his perspective on Collin's parents," Kupferberg said after the hearing.
From the bench, Messitte firmly rebuked McKenzie-Gude and some of those close to him.
"One of the great disservices to you, Collin McKenzie-Gude, is that you've been told how smart you are. Well, you're not. You're not that smart," he said. "And the world is here to tell you that today."
The judge also made it clear that he wanted to deter others.
"There are other Collin McKenzie-Gudes out there who are perhaps 10, 12, 13, 14," Messitte said. "And they're fascinated with guns, and they're fascinated with explosives, and they're going to watch this case and know about this case."
Messitte was also clearly concerned that a key witness for prosecutors -- McKenzie-Gude's former close friend Patrick Yevsukov -- testified that McKenzie-Gude had talked about trying to assassinate Obama by halting his convoy with roadside bombs. The judge said it "seemed to be a serious plan."
Messitte said McKenzie-Gude is a product of a part of society that seems to think it is all right to engage in role-playing when it comes to talk of using weapons.
"You can talk a game of creating havoc, and then you perhaps think you can come to court afterwards and say, 'I didn't really mean that. It was all play-acting. I think I'd like to be home with my parents now,' " Messitte said. "The real world does not operate that way. And it never should. And you need to know that."