More than two decades after pipe-bomb explosions shook Florida A&M University, a federal appeals court Wednesday upheld a 54-year prison sentence for a man who was convicted of planting the bombs in what authorities said were racially motivated incidents.
A three-judge panel of the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals rejected arguments by Lawrence Lombardi, who was convicted in 2000 on six charges related to setting off the pipe bombs in bathrooms at the historically Black university. No one was injured in the two bombings.
Lombardi was resentenced to 54 years in 2020 after a U.S. Supreme Court decision in a separate case led to his convictions on two of the six charges being tossed out. U.S. District Judge Robert Hinkle imposed the 54-year sentence, after Lombardi contended that he should be released because of the time he had already served in prison.
The appeals-court panel Wednesday rejected arguments that the sentence violated a constitutional ban on double jeopardy and was unreasonable.
“Focusing on the racial and terroristic nature of Mr. Lombardi’s acts, the district court found the need to protect the public and to deter Mr. Lombardi from doing this again to be high,” said the opinion by Judges Adalberto Jordan, Jill Pryor and Elizabeth Branch. “Mr. Lombardi argues that the district court did not consider his personal changes over the past 20 years, but the court specifically mentioned that it lowered the total sentence from the maximum allowable because of mitigating factors, including his good record in prison and his mental health.”
Lombardi, now 64, worked for a business that serviced vending machines at the university. The pipe bombs exploded Aug. 31, 1999, in a bathroom of the university’s Lee Hall and on Sept. 22, 1999, in the Perry-Paige Building, according to a brief filed last year by federal prosecutors.
After the bombs exploded, an anonymous caller made racially charged phone calls to local news media.
In 2000, a jury convicted Lombardi of two counts of maliciously damaging property, two counts of using and carrying a destructive device during and in relation to a crime of violence and two counts of interfering with federally protected activities on the basis of race or color, according to the brief filed by prosecutors.
The counts related to using and carrying a destructive device carried sentences of 30 years and life in prison. The other counts led to a sentence of nine years.
But a U.S. Supreme Court decision in 2019 in an unrelated case led to the vacation of Lombardi’s convictions on the charges with the longest prison sentences. Hinkle then resentenced him on the other charges, according to court documents.
In the brief filed last year urging the appeals court to uphold the 54-year sentence, prosecutors wrote that “the bombings created panic and fear among the university’s faculty, staff and 11,500 students as well as their parents, and there was concern that the university may have had to close to keep the student body safe.”
“Although the anonymous phone calls spoke for themselves, the government’s evidence left no doubt that Lombardi was motivated by bigotry,” the brief said. “During trial, Lombardi’s friends, former co-workers and a neighbor all testified that Lombardi had an overt dislike or even hatred of Black people and routinely used bigoted and offensive language.”
But Lombardi’s attorney wrote in a brief that the 54-year sentence would be a “death sentence” and said Lombardi had mental-health issues before the bombings. Also, the brief pointed to his conduct in prison.
“While Lombardi was incarcerated, he taught music to multi-racial inmates; he started two multi-racial bands; he maintained friendships with African-American individuals, and he was attacked by a ‘wanna be’ white gang member because his friendships with black inmates had made Lombardi a target,” his attorney wrote.