Suspect in Obama death plot sentenced in carjacking attempt

By Dan Morse
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, May 13, 2010

Collin McKenzie-Gude, the 20-year-old Bethesda man linked to a plan to try to kill Barack Obama, was sentenced to an additional year in prison Wednesday during a hearing that again presented starkly different views of him.

"The defendant in the case, I really find to be a mystery," said Circuit Court Judge Michael D. Mason. "And quite honestly, it is a mystery that I cannot entirely unravel."

The hearing stemmed from McKenzie-Gude's guilty plea to an attempted carjacking on July 29, 2008, the day his life fell apart.

Until then, most saw him as a well-mannered honor student and Junior ROTC cadet who had just graduated from St. John's College High School. He was about to start class at American University, with plans to become a federal anti-terrorism agent.

But that day, Montgomery County investigators, acting on a tip about guns and explosives, pulled him over, questioned him and told him they were headed to his house to search it. The investigators would find more than 50 pounds of bombmaking chemicals in his bedroom, along with high-powered rifles and hundreds of rounds of ammunition.

McKenzie-Gude didn't go home after being questioned but drove to White Flint mall, parked in a garage, got out and assaulted a 78-year-old man who'd had two hip replacements. McKenzie-Gude tried unsuccessfully to steal the man's Chevy Prizm in what prosecutors have called a short-lived plan to flee the area.

The victim, Dermot Owens, spoke in court Wednesday for the first time in the case. "He could have tried to wrestle the keys from me, but no, he was so intent on getting the keys that he knocked me down. It was a vicious assault," Owens said.

Owens said he no longer parks in garages, preferring open lots. He waits a few minutes and scans the area for trouble before getting out. His wife, Anna Owens, also spoke. "I ask you: What kind of 18-year-old old attacks a man of 78?" she said to Mason. "It's been hard on us."

In an earlier matter, McKenzie-Gude was sentenced in federal court to five years in prison for storing the bombmaking chemicals. In that case, McKenzie-Gude's former close friend Patrick Yevsukov said McKenzie-Gude had discussed plans to buy untraceable guns and kill Obama during the 2008 presidential campaign.

Wednesday's hearing addressed whether the judge would tack on additional time for the attempted carjacking. Mason technically sentenced McKenzie-Gude to three years but gave him credit for the nearly two years he has already been locked up. Steven Kupferberg, McKenzie-Gude's attorney, called six of his client's former teachers and one correctional officer, who spoke favorably of McKenzie-Gude's maturity, intelligence and respectfulness.

Montgomery prosecutor Peter Feeney said McKenzie-Gude presented dual personalities: one highly deferential to teachers, the other known to curse out his parents and make racist comments to his close friends. "There is an aspect of evil about this young man," he told the judge.

McKenzie-Gude spoke, addressing Owens and his family.

"I can't begin to apologize for what I've done," he said, his voice halting. "In all of my mistakes in the past two years, this is by far the most disgusting and despicable behavior that I have done against you. And I really just don't know how to quantify it except to say that I am terribly sorry, sir. You have nothing to fear from me anymore, sir."

© 2010 The Washington Post Company