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State Attorney Hopes FAMU Bomber Resentencing Sets Standard For Domestic Terrorist

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A judge working with legal documents in a courtroom.

In the Fall of 1999, Florida A&M University was victim to an act of domestic terrorism. While no one was hurt, a man espousing racist beliefs detonated two bombs in school bathrooms. He said his intention was to harm Black people. Recently, a judge resentenced him to 54 years in prison—what amounts to a life sentence given his age. U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of Florida says the decision sends a message that the country won’t tolerate domestic terrorism.

There are few students on FAMU’s campus who remember the Fall of 1999. That’s when Lawrence Lombardi exploded two pipe bombs at FAMU. One in a Lee Hall bathroom, the other at Perry Paige. While the student recollection is short, there are still faculty and staff who recall events clearly. Thomas Cavano, the facility manager at the time, is one of those people.

“It was a little bit of late lunchtime and I was thinking about going to eat and I got a phone call and the phone call basically was, ‘You’re the guy in Lee Hall right.’ And I said, ‘Yeah’. And he said, ‘Well if you got any friends in the front of the building you better get them out because it's fixing to come down," said Cavano.

The call came from Lombardi. Cavano says minutes after students let him know they’d heard a loud noise coming from the restrooms.

"So I went into the bathroom and turns out there’s some smoke and some chemical smell. And at that point I kind of went well that was our bomb," said Cavano. "By then FAMU PD was there and they cleared the building."

A month later the second and last bomb went off. Lombardi was 41 years old and unemployed at the time. According to a 1999 report from the Associated Press, after each bombing, Lombardi would make phone calls to local media. In one, he claimed Black people quote: “had no business having a college where there ain’t nobody smart enough to get a degree.”

Fear spread through the campus, FAMU President Larry Robinson testified recently at Lombardi’s resentencing hearing. The school’s enrollment fell as students left, terrified. It’s not something he, or other faculty and staff who are still around today, will soon forget.

The resentencing came about because of a U.S. Supreme Court ruling in a separate case. The result: two of the charges Lombardi was originally sentenced under were determined to be unconstitutionally vague. He was originally serving a life sentence and asked to be resentenced. His attorneys wanted him to be released after more than 22 years in prison. That didn’t happen. Explains Assistant State Attorney Jordane Learn.

"The statutory maximum on the other charges that were left the four that you just talked about were 60 years. So Judge Hinkle imposed a 54 years out of a maximum of 60," said Learn.

Lombardi is currently 62-years-old and with the new sentence, that gives him 33 more years left behind bars, before being let out to serve three years of probation. Northern District of Florida U.S. State Attorney Lawrence Keefe believes that while it’s not technically a life sentence, the result has the same effect.

"This particular individual is going to at all probability be incarcerated for the rest of his life so he’s removed as a threat," said Keefe.

Keefe says prosecutors fought to keep Lombardi incarcerated because they worried he would be a target for recruitment if he was released.

This particular individual is the sort that these white extremist groups and white terrorist groups would recruit and look to manipulate and to commit violent acts.

Keefe says ultimately the sentence fits the crime and he hopes that the court case can give guidance to how white supremacist groups are handled.

"Well, my hope is that what we’re talking about here largely falls into the category of white nationalist, racist white supremacists, these domestic violence extremists and the position to be taken on that," said Keefe

"Had he not been required to finish out his sentence it would’ve been a signal from the court this is okay now. It would’ve been a very bad message to the community,' said Cavano.

Cavano who still works at FAMU today, says in the wake of racial justice movements across the country letting Lombardi out would’ve been a bad move.

For WFSU News, I’m Blaise Gainey