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Florida man pleads not guilty in political pipe bombs case

Posted at 2:03 PM, Nov 15, 2018

NEW YORK (AP) – The Florida man accused of sending pipe bombs to prominent critics of President Donald Trump pleaded not guilty Thursday to charges carrying a potential penalty of life in prison.

Cesar Sayoc entered the plea through his lawyers during his appearance in Manhattan federal court.

U.S. District Judge Jed Rakoff set a July 15, 2019, trial date.

The judge suggested earlier dates, but Sayoc’s attorneys said they needed more time to prepare given the amount of discovery in the case and a lack of staffing at the federal public defenders’ office of New York.

“This is a slightly more complex case than the average one,” federal defender Sarah Baumgartel told Rakoff.

Sayoc – who faces five federal counts, including use of a weapon of mass destruction – is accused of sending 16 improvised explosive devices through the U.S. mail to victims across the country. None of the devices exploded.

Authorities said he targeted numerous Democrats, critics of Trump and CNN – a scare that heightened tensions before the crucial midterm elections.

Federal prosecutors said authorities are still scouring surveillance video from the U.S. Postal Service and lining up experts to examine the explosive devices. They estimated the government will need three weeks to present its evidence at Sayoc’s trial.

Sayoc’s mother said in a recent letter to ABC News her son grapples with mental illness, though she didn’t provide any further details about his condition. But it’s not clear whether Sayoc’s attorneys intend to raise that defense in court.

Baumgartel declined to comment on her client’s mental health after Thursday’s hearing.

Sayoc was arrested on Oct. 26 in Plantation, Florida outside an auto parts store. He had been living in a van covered with stickers of Trump and showing images of some of the president’s opponents with crosshairs over their faces.

An improvised explosive mailed to former Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton in suburban Chappaqua, New York, contained a picture of Clinton and members of her family marked with a red “X,” prosecutors say.

Others targeted by the mailings included former President Barack Obama, former Vice President Joe Biden, California Sen. Kamala Harris and New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker. Packages were also mailed to CNN’s offices in New York and Atlanta.