White man gets life sentence in racial bombings at Florida A&M

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. - A white man was sentenced Friday to life in prison for setting off two pipe bombs that spread terror last year at the predominantly black Florida A&M University but caused no injuries.

Lawrence Lombardi, an unemployed funeral embalmer who was convicted in June, maintained that he was innocent. He told U.S. District Judge Robert L. Hinkle that he believed federal agents, under pressure to make an arrest, made him a scapegoat.

Federal law provides a life sentence when someone is convicted of a second bombing. Hinkle determined that although Lombardi was convicted in a single case, the bombings were separate offenses and fell under the mandatory sentencing provision of federal law.

The bombings, accompanied by racist phone calls, gripped the school in fear for a month at the beginning of the 1999-2000 school year.

Lombardi, 42, once stocked vending machines at the Tallahassee school. He said state and federal law enforcement agents ignored leads that might have led to someone else.

''With parents weekend approaching (at the campus), there was a concerted effort by law enforcement to quickly make an arrest,'' Lombardi said.

During the trial, Lombardi's lawyer, Tim Jansen, admitted Lombardi had made racist comments to friends and admitted making one phone call filled with racial slurs to a TV station after a bombing. But Jansen contended Lombardi was just ''jumping on the bandwagon'' after the explosion.

On Friday, Jansen said federal prosecutors ''never put him at FAMU'' with hard evidence.

Lombardi, a former Marine originally from Columbus, Ohio, also said he was prejudged by a community cloaked in racial tension during the bombings. Because of publicity, the trial was moved to Pensacola, 190 miles to the west.

''This has been a long road,'' Lombardi said. ''It has caused a great deal of harm and a lot of agony. It's forced my family practically into hiding.''

In addition to the life term for setting off a bomb, Lombardi also was sentenced for hate crimes because they were racially motivated. He received a 30-years consecutive sentence and a nine-year concurrent sentence.

Prosecutor Karen Rhew said the intent of the bombings clearly was to hurt people because of their color, not just to spread fear. She told the judge that should be factored into the sentence.

''These bombs were not placed in vacant buildings, they were placed in buildings that were frequently used,'' Rhew said. ''Did Mr. Lombardi know these bombs could have gone off and hurt someone? Of course he did.''

The first blast went off Aug. 31, 1999 in a restroom at an administration building. The second was in a classroom building. Neither caused extensive damage.

But the second was followed by a phone call to a television station threatening that it was ''just the beginning.'' The 12,000-student hilltop campus locked up in fear.

A university official testified during the trial that 400 students left campus soon after the bombings.

Jansen said his client will appeal, most likely first on grounds that statements he made to the FBI shouldn't have been allowed at trial.

Jansen said Lombardi was questioned for four hours in the middle of the night without a lawyer present and was never read his rights. The questioning also wasn't taped.

Hinkle said the day may come when he has to sentence a person who has been convicted by a jury even though he himself has a doubt about the person's guilt.

''This is not that day,'' Hinkle said.

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