A judge sentenced a Morganton, North Carolina, man to life in prison Tuesday morning at the federal courthouse in Asheville.
Justin Sullivan, who was 19 years old when he was first arrested in 2015, pleaded guilty last November to one count of attempting to commit an act of terrorism transcending national boundaries.
He told the FBI he was a converted Muslim and wanted to kill 1,000 people by using cyanide-laced bullets and vehicles filled with bombs. Sullivan wanted to get an AR-15 from a gun show in Hickory to kill a large number of U.S. citizens, according to court documents.
But what he didn't know was that he was corresponding with an undercover FBI agent.
During the sentencing, Sullivan told the court that he was not a bad person and that a life sentence was not justified.
Prosecutors said in September of 2014, Sullivan converted to Islam, became a violent Islamic extremist and watched ISIS videos, wanting to create his own Islamic state in the United States.
"He planned to attack a concert or a club, places that we would call soft targets, places where people would be about enjoying their lives and not expecting acts of violence,” said U.S. Attorney Jill Westmoreland Rose.
The judge said that it was an act of terrorism and that Sullivan was cold, calculated and cowardly.
Sullivan stood up and told the judge it was a lie to describe him as a cold-blooded murderer.
The 21-year-old is also accused of murdering his neighbor, 74-year-old John Clark, who was found in a shallow grave next to his home after being shot three times in the head in December 2014.
The FBI found the rifle used in that shooting while investigating the terrorism case.
The district attorney plans to seek the death penalty in that case.
After his sentencing, Sullivan's father spoke to WSOC-TV.
"As parents, we're not happy, but as Americans, I accept it,” Rich Sullivan said. “Of course, he is still my son and I still love him."
Sullivan’s parents also alerted authorities prior to his arrest after a silencer arrived at the family's home. The FBI acted after learning Sullivan was plotting to murder them because they were interfering with his plot to kill others.
WSOC reporter Dave Faherty asked Rich Sullivan if he forgives his son.
“No, I can't,” Rich Sullivan said.
The focus now turns to Sullivan’s capital murder trial in Burke County for the shooting death of John Clark. FBI agents said they found the murder weapon at Sullivan's home and matched it through ballistics.
"From what we have learned about Justin Sullivan is that from a very early age, and I'm talking eight or nine years old, he has suffered from real depression and suicidal ideation," said defense attorney Vicki Jayne.
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