A white supremacist has pleaded guilty to seriously wounding five people in an August 1999 shooting rampage at a local Jewish community center, and then murdering a Filipino American mail carrier.
In a plea bargain with federal prosecutors, Buford O. Furrow Jr., 39, agreed Wednesday to a lifetime prison sentence without possibility of parole, appeal or pardon.
Furrow was spared a possible death sentence after the prosecution and defense concluded that he suffered from mental illness and severe psychiatric problems.
On Aug. 10, 1999, Furrow sprayed the lobby of the North Valley JCC in Granada Hills, Calif., with 70 bullets, wounding an adult receptionist, a teen-age counselor and three young campers.
Furrow then shot and killed mailman Joseph Ileto, because he was “angered at the sight of a nonwhite federal employee,” U.S. Attorney Alejandro Mayorkas said at a news conference Wednesday.
In his attack on the Jewish center, Furrow shot the receptionist “because he presumed her to be Jewish,” Mayorkas said, and then fired indiscriminately at the children with intent to kill, “because he presumed that they were also Jewish.”
In his initial confession to the FBI, Furrow said that he considered the JCC shooting “a wake-up call to America to kill Jews.”
Furrow is a follower of the Aryan Nations, a racist and anti-Semitic hate group.
Families of the now-recovered shooting victims did not appear at the news conference. Some were unavailable to comment, and others declined.
However, Mayorkas said he had spoken with the families before agreeing to the plea bargain, and they supported his decision.
The president of the North Valley JCC, Nancy Parris Moskowitz, told JTA in a phone interview that “we are all relieved that we won’t have to deal with the pain of appearing in a lengthy court trial, and that this man won’t be in a position to harm anyone else.
“There are still many searing memories, but as an institution we are moving forward, with the full support of the Jewish community,” Moskowitz said. “All of as have also become more involved in social issues, such as hate crimes and gun control.”
Furrow first scouted such high-profile Jewish institutions as the Simon Wiesenthal Center and its Museum of Tolerance, the University of Judaism and the Skirball Cultural Center, he told investigators, but found security at these places too tight.
Commenting on Furrow’s guilty plea, Rabbi Abraham Cooper, associate dean of the Wiesenthal Center, said that “the cause of justice has been served. It is our hope that the image of Furrow behind bars for life will serve as a deterrent to others contemplating violent hate crimes.”
David Lehrer, regional director of the Anti-Defamation League, said in a statement that “the ADL believes that justice has been served.
“A clear and unambiguous message has been sent that the commission of hate crimes will result in conviction and a severe penalty,” Lehrer added.
Furrow’s formal sentencing is scheduled for March 26.