Correction: Earlier versions of this article incorrectly described Yonathan Melaku as a Marine Corps Reservist. He is a former reservist. This version has been corrected.
Yonathan Melaku, a 23-year-old former Marine Corps Reservist accused of shooting at military buildings in the Washington area last fall, was convicted Monday of unrelated charges that stemmed from a spate of vehicle break-ins in May in Loudoun County.
During a hearing in Loudoun County Circuit Court, Melaku was found guilty of two counts of grand larceny. He was also convicted of trying in September to escape from his jail cell by digging through a cinder-block wall.
Under a plea agreement, Circuit Court Judge Thomas D. Horne sentenced Melaku to five years on each charge but suspended all but six months.
Senior Assistant Commonwealth’s Attorney Amy Totten told Horne that at the conclusion of Melaku’s six-month sentence, “federal authorities will immediately take him into custody.”
Melaku, an Alexandria resident, is charged in federal court in Alexandria with shooting at five military sites across the region — including the National Museum of the Marine Corps and the Pentagon — between Oct. 16 and Nov. 2 of last year.
Because Melaku will receive credit for the months he has already spent in the Loudoun County jail awaiting a resolution in his case, it is possible that he could be taken into federal custody before the end of the month, said David Racer, the attorney for Melaku in the escape case.
The shootings, all of which took place in the overnight or early-morning hours, began Oct. 16, 2010, when shots were fired at the windows of the National Museum of the Marine Corps in Prince William County. A few days later, shots were fired at the Pentagon, followed by a Marine recruiting center in Chantilly on Oct. 25. The Marine Corps Museum was shot at again Oct. 28, and the window of a U.S. Coast Guard recruiting center in Woodbridge was shot Nov. 1.
The incidents led to Melaku’s June 17 arrest at Arlington National Cemetery, where he was found carrying a backpack containing bombmaking materials. Authorities later found a self-made video of Melaku shouting “Allahu Akbar!” after firing shots at the Marine Corps Museum.
Federal prosecutors have alleged that Melaku chose military targets because he wanted to “engage in violent activity against the military.” That claim was questioned by Robert May, the attorney for Melaku on the larceny charges, who said after a July hearing that he did not think Melaku harbored anger toward the Marines.
Melaku showed little emotion at Monday’s hearing, his voice low as he offered single-word responses to Horne’s questions.
Melaku entered an Alford plea to each of the three charges, meaning he did not admit guilt but conceded that the evidence against him was strong enough for a conviction.
Toward the end of the proceeding, Horne asked Melaku whether he had anything he’d like to say.
Melaku paused, shook his head and then said quietly, “No.”