Jewish Center gunman gets 2 life sentences
LOS ANGELES, California (CNN) -- Avowed white supremacist Buford Furrow Jr. was given two life sentences, plus 110 years, Monday for killing a postal carrier and shooting five people -- four of them children -- in a 1999 rampage at a Jewish community center.
The sentence was part of a plea bargain to 16 counts, including murder of a federal employee and numerous hate-crime charges, that allowed Furrow to avoid the death penalty.
Furrow, wearing a wrinkled gray shirt with his hands and feet shackled, told the packed U.S. district courtroom in Los Angeles that he was sorry for the August 10, 1999, shooting spree.
Many in the courtroom, including victims' family members and postal workers, cried as Furrow read a prepared statement.
"I think of what happened every day and I will continue to grieve for the rest of my life," Furrow said, looking down at the piece of paper. "The terrible trauma you had to go through is beyond my understanding. I hold myself responsible."
Referring to his history of mental illness, Furrow added that he wished he had been "held at the hospital longer."
He also said he doesn't "harbor ill feelings toward people of any race, color, creed, religion or sexual orientation."
"I will never hurt anyone again," he said. "I would give anything for this not to have happened."
After he finished his statement, victims' family members and a JCC counselor who was shot gave emotional testimony about the day Furrow walked into North Valley Jewish Community Center and opened fire. Minutes later, he killed Joseph Ileto, a Filipino-American postal worker, who was delivering the mail eight miles from the community center.
Furrow looked down during their testimony, glancing up only when new speakers were introduced. One of his attorneys patted him on the knee, trying to comfort him during the session.
Lillian Ileto, the mother of the slain postal worker, said, "When he killed my son, he also killed a part of me."
"My son, gunned down like an animal, my heart aches every day. He was killed because he looked Asian or Hispanic," she said, crying. "I don't know if (Furrow) is sorry. But if he is, I don't know if I can really forgive him."
Ismael Ileto said he misses his brother every day. Glaring at Furrow, he said, "It's a sorry, sorry excuse to say that mental illness caused this."
Gary Zidell, whose son James was shot by Furrow, said, "I'm disappointed after 19 months we aren't here to watch Mr. Furrow's execution."
Furrow had pleaded guilty to a murder charge for the shooting of Ileto, six counts of civil rights violations and nine weapons charges.
Judge Nora Manella sentenced him to two consecutive life terms, plus 110 additional years, without the possibility of parole. Furrow was also ordered to pay $690,294.11 in restitution to victims' families and insurance companies. He must also pay $1,600 to the U.S. government.
Judge Manella scolded Furrow during the proceeding, saying, "Your actions were a stark and brutal reminder that bigotry is alive, if not well."
For many in the courtroom, the sentencing seemed empty.
Eleanor Kadish, whose son Ben was wounded in the shooting, said, "Every night at bath time, we are reminded of that day because of the terrible scarring. Ben asks, 'Why? Why did someone shoot me?' "
Added Mindy Finkelstein, a teen-aged counselor at the JCC who was shot: "I've been to hell and back. Buford Furrow tried to kill me. He failed, but in a way he succeeded."
Furrow appeared disheveled as he left the court to begin his prison term.
Furrow pleads guilty to shootings, will avoid death penalty, get life without parole
Temple Beth Torah of Granada Hills CA
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