By Carol D. Leonning
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, August 19, 2003; B1
Prescott Sigmund was sentenced to 32 years in prison yesterday for trying to kill his father by putting a pipe bomb in his Chevrolet Blazer, and the federal judge handing down the punishment complained that he wished it were tougher.
The bomb exploded, but it maimed Sigmund's half brother instead.
In approving the sentence that Sigmund and prosecutors agreed to earlier as part of a plea-bargain arrangement, U.S. District Judge Emmet G. Sullivan said that if he had his way, Sigmund would have lived the rest of his life in prison without chance of parole. Sullivan said he would recommend that Sigmund be sent to a maximum-security prison and that he not be granted occasional release under any circumstances, not even for treatment of a terminal illness.
"Thirty-two years is a bargain for you," Sullivan said. "I can't think of anything more diabolical than what you did, putting a bomb in your father's car. . . . That kind of person should never walk again in civil society."
On July 12 of last year, the nail-and-gunpowder bomb exploded in Donald Sigmund's Blazer, which was in an underground garage on Wisconsin Avenue NW in Friendship Heights and beneath Sigmund's insurance company offices. The prosecution argued that Prescott Sigmund set the bomb because he was in financial straits and hoped to inherit money from his father's estate if his father was killed. But the bomb exploded when Wright Sigmund, Prescott's half brother, borrowed the vehicle to deliver an icemaker to his father's new house.
Wright Sigmund fled the burning vehicle, but he suffered numerous shrapnel injuries and third-degree burns. He has undergone 25 operations in the past year and faces five more reconstructive surgeries next summer to help ease his pain when sitting.
Prescott Sigmund fled Washington shortly after the bombing and eventually moved to Montana, where he lived under an assumed identity. He turned himself in to authorities there in November after the television show "America's Most Wanted" broadcast his name and picture.
Before he was sentenced, he told his gathered victims, all now estranged family members, that he was sorry for his crime and confused about why he had done something so extreme and violent.
"I'm truly sorry for all the pain I inflicted on my brother, my wife and my two sons," he said yesterday. "I wish I could come before this court and say why I did it, but I can't. I don't know."
Sullivan asked Sigmund if he had anything specific to say to his half brother, whose doctors predict that his life will be shortened 14 years because of damage to his organs. Sullivan interrupted him as he started to reply.
"Why don't you turn, face him and tell him yourself?" the judge said.
Prescott Sigmund turned to face his half brother, sitting in the courtroom's first row. "I've always loved you, and I still do," he said. Wright Sigmund stared at him stonily, with no emotion.
Sullivan could have rejected the sentence agreement and pushed prosecutors for a tougher negotiated settlement or a trial.
He said that he was approving the agreement reluctantly and that the nature of the crime, as well as Prescott Sigmund's reluctance to explain or show remorse, called for a stiffer sentence. The judge said he wanted to defer to the victims, particularly Wright Sigmund and Bradey Bulk, Prescott Sigmund's ex-wife, who said they supported the sentence agreement because it would put the crime behind them and avoid the uncertainty of trial. If tried and convicted, Sigmund could have faced 40 years in prison.
Sullivan also said that he will require five years of supervised release after Prescott Sigmund has served his term and that any profits he earns while in prison be turned over to his victims.
Prescott Sigmund's relatives lined up one by one to tell him and the judge how the bomb had ripped one person's body, torn apart a marriage and decimated an extended family. He sat expressionless as he listened to the raw, angry testimony.
Bradey Bulk said she was left with two young children, emptied checking accounts and a load of lies when Prescott Sigmund fled two weeks after the explosion. She told him in court that she can't count all the wedding vows he has broken.
"I vow now that you will never see your children again," Bulk said. "You are a loathsome failure of a creature. How do you live with yourself?"
Claire Phillips, Wright Sigmund's mother, echoed the complaints of several relatives about what they called Prescott's "last-ditch" letters to relatives explaining that he had snapped after years of emotional abuse by his father.
"Scott was not abused," Phillips said, "unless living on weekends with a sometimes verbally volatile father is a reason for murder."
Donald Sigmund did not attend the hearing.
Wright Sigmund said he still couldn't believe that his half brother had been so heartless. "You wanted to be seen as a successful businessman and loving father," Wright Sigmund said. "You'll be remembered as the villainous coward, no better than a terrorist."
The brother told the judge that he agreed the sentence was too light, adding as he turned: "And Scott, just so you know, my pain and suffering will never end."