How alleged bomber Cesar Sayoc's case will develop now

How alleged bomber Cesar Sayoc's case will develop now
© Getty

With the Justice Department’s filing of a criminal complaint on Friday, charging Cesar Sayoc Jr. with five felony offenses, the intense, nationwide investigation of the sending of apparent pipe bombs to prominent Democrats is nearing an end. What could be a lengthy legal process, however, is just getting started.

We must say the investigation is “nearing” an end because there may yet be other shoes to drop. Sayoc, a 56-year-old ne’er-do-well Florida resident with a disturbing criminal record, appears to have acted alone, so it is unlikely more defendants will be added to the case. But there will be more bomb packages beyond the 13 described in the complaint. Indeed, a 14th, addressed to billionaire Democrat activist Tom Steyer, was intercepted in California hours after the 13th device, addressed to Sen. Kamala Harris, also a California Democrat, was discovered Friday morning in Sacramento.

ADVERTISEMENT

There is no indication in the complaint that Sayoc gave post-arrest statements to law enforcement officials. While that does not rule out that he did so, it seems unlikely that he gave the feds a reliable final count. We may need to wait a few more days to see what makes its way through the postal system, and what delivered but unopened mail could turn up.

A criminal complaint is, essentially, a vehicle for stating probable cause of some (but usually not all) criminal charges in a case. It enables a judge to advise the defendant of why he has been arrested, to assign counsel and to set bail — or, in this case, to detain the defendant without bail.

The eventual charges that Sayoc would face, if there is a trial, will be alleged in an indictment returned by a grand jury. Because Sayoc is in custody, the Justice Department will need to indict him within 10 business days unless his counsel consents to an adjournment. If an indictment has to be filed on that short time frame, it undoubtedly would be of the “stop the clock” variety; that is, the government would file bare-bones charges that would be enough to justify keeping Sayoc in jail. Ultimately, when all of the forensic testing is done and the investigation is more ripe, prosecutors will file a superseding indictment that fully outlines all the charges in a narrative fashion.

Much of the action in the case was in Florida: Sayoc lives in Aventura, was arrested in Plantation and allegedly used a postal facility in Opa-locka to process several of the bomb packages. Yet, he is being prosecuted in federal court in Manhattan (the Southern District of New York — SDNY). This is where the investigation was spearheaded by the FBI’s Joint Terrorism Task Force, the most experienced and longest-tenured JTTF in the country. Clearly, there is venue in New York. For example, the package addressed to former Secretary of State Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonSchiff pleads to Senate GOP: 'Right matters. And the truth matters.' Hill.TV's Saagar Enjeti defends Tulsi Gabbard's lawsuit against Hillary Clinton Trump to hold rally on eve of New Hampshire primary MORE was sent there (the Clintons’ Chappaqua residence is in Westchester County, which is in the SDNY). The apparent explosives intended for former CIA Director John BrennanJohn Owen BrennanFederal prosecutor looking into Brennan's role in Russian interference findings: report FISA court's rebuke of the FBI: It broke or ignored the rules and our rights Where was American counterintelligence? MORE and former National Intelligence Director James ClapperJames Robert ClapperTrump predicts 'historic' conclusions from DOJ's watchdog report on 'spying' The curious timeline for taking down Trump Fairness, tradition, and the Constitution demand the 'whistleblower' step forward MORE were sent to CNN’s offices in Manhattan.

Because the apparent bombs did not explode, they were recovered intact and in their packaging. That gives investigators a wealth of forensic evidence. They have capitalized on it. The complaint alleges that packages addressed to Congresswoman Maxine WatersMaxine Moore WatersGearing up for a chaotic year on K Street Maxine Waters: Republicans 'shielding' Trump 'going to be responsible for dragging us to war' Green says House shouldn't hold impeachment articles indefinitely MORE (D-Calif.) contained a fingerprint that was matched to Sayoc. The FBI believes there may be DNA matches between Sayoc and samples collected from the packages directed at Rep. Waters and President Obama. The DNA testing is ongoing; final results have not been confirmed and there may be more matches. There are matches of misspellings of names between the packages and some ravings on Sayoc’s social media accounts.

While the five charges thus far lodged against Sayoc are significant, they surely are just the start. The defendant has been charged with interstate transportation of explosives, illegally mailing explosives, making threatening communications as well as threats to kill a former president and immediate family member of a former president (President Obama and former first lady Clinton), and assaulting federal officers (including Presidents Clinton and Obama, and Vice President Joe BidenJoe BidenSchiff pleads to Senate GOP: 'Right matters. And the truth matters.' Anita Hill to Iowa crowd: 'Statute of limitations' for Biden apology is 'up' Sen. Van Hollen releases documents from GAO investigation MORE).

These charges aggregate to, potentially, 48 years’ imprisonment. Assuming the FBI’s forensic testing confirms that at least some of the packages contained explosive bombs, I would expect the Justice Department to charge Sayoc with using or threatening to use weapons of mass destruction, which are expansively defined by federal law to include explosive bombs. That offense carries a potential penalty of life imprisonment, and it could be charged separately for each different device.

Even if the weapon of mass destruction charge is not brought, the crime of transporting an explosive carries a 10-year sentence and could be brought with respect to each device, translating to well over a century of prison exposure.

Forensics don’t lie, so the evidence against Sayoc is apt to be overwhelming. In such violent crime cases, defendants often attempt to raise questions about their mental competence — i.e., whether they were capable of forming the criminal intent necessary to prove guilt.

There are lots of reasons to believe Sayoc is a bizarre character. His record includes an alleged bomb threat (to blow up a Florida utility company), as well as theft, drug and fraud charges. He was obsessed with body-building and may have been a male stripper for a time. He apparently declared bankruptcy and may have been living in his van, which was festooned with pro-Trump stickers. This is all suggestive of the sort of unhinged person who would send bombs that did not detonate to the perceived enemies of his political hero, President TrumpDonald John TrumpSchiff pleads to Senate GOP: 'Right matters. And the truth matters.' Anita Hill to Iowa crowd: 'Statute of limitations' for Biden apology is 'up' Sen. Van Hollen releases documents from GAO investigation MORE. Nevertheless, it does not indicate a person who failed to understand what he was doing. In fact, the sheer planning involved in these offenses would undermine any insanity defense.

That doesn’t mean Cesar Sayoc and his lawyers won’t try. If they do, this prosecution will take a long time to complete.

Former federal prosecutor Andrew C. McCarthy is a senior fellow at National Review Institute, a contributing editor at National Review, and a Fox News contributor.