Two Decades Later – Leon County Man’s Pipe Bomb Conviction Upheld

April 11, 2022 Criminal Defense, Violent Crimes

A case involving a Tallahassee man that has spanned two decades was recently reheard in court on March 23, 2022. The twists and turns of the case, which initially took place on a college campus and shook the state of Florida, will be thoroughly explored.

What Happened?

In August and September of 1999, Lawrence Lombardi planted and detonated two pipe bombs at Florida Agricultural and Mechanical University (FAMU), a historically Black university. At the time, Lombardi, who is now 64, worked for a business that serviced vending machines at the university. Through trial evidence, these heinous acts were proven to be racially motivated. One piece of evidence included an anonymous call made after the bombs exploded to a local news station that made racially charged statements. No one was hurt from the bombs, and Lombardi was subsequently convicted by a federal jury of six counts, including two counts of maliciously damaging property, two counts of using 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. Lombardi was sentenced in 2000 to life plus 39 years in federal prison.

A Drastic Twist in the Case

However, the case took a turn in 2019, when the United States Supreme Court held in United States v. Davis that the definition of “crime of violence” was unconstitutionally vague, and that “a vague law is no law at all.” This ruling played an integral part in Lombardi’s case since the two counts of using a destructive device during and in relation to a crime of violence carried the harshest penalty because of the mandatory sentencing requirements in place. Specifically, the first count carried a mandatory sentence of 39 years’ imprisonment, and the second carried a mandatory sentence of life imprisonment. As a result, Lombardi challenged the two motions, and although the government opposed the motion, the district court ruled that the two convictions were invalid.

Lombardi’s mandatory sentences were then vacated. Lombardi also argued that his sentence should be reduced due to the time he had already served. The government again opposed and the district court decided that Lombardi’s four remaining counts needed to be resentenced. In 2020, “the Honorable District Judge Robert E. Hinkle heard victim impact statements from survivors of the bombings at [the] hearing before imposing a combined total sentence of 54 years.” 

Recent Ruling

Lombardi appealed, and on March 23, 2022, a three-judge panel of the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals rejected Lombardi’s arguments that the 54-year sentence violated a constitutional ban on double jeopardy and was unreasonable. The judges stated in the court’s opinion:

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. 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.

In a brief filed last year, the prosecution urged the appellate court to uphold the conviction, stating “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.” The brief also noted that the evidence presented by the prosecution, including testimony by Lombardi’s friends, neighbor, and former co-worker all showed that Lombardi “had an overt dislike or even hatred of Black people and routinely used bigoted and offensive language.” This evidence, as explained in the brief, “left no doubt that Lombardi was motivated by bigotry.” However, Lombardi’s attorney wrote a brief that upholding the 54-year sentence constituted a death sentence and that Lombardi was influenced by mental health issues before he planted the bombs. The brief also made note of Lombardi’s conduct in prison, which included teaching “music to multi-racial inmates, start[in] two multi-racial bands, [and] maintain[ing] friendships with African American individuals.”

Hate Crimes

A hate crime can be defined as a “committed or attempted criminal act by any person or group of persons against a person or the property of another person or group, which in any way constitutes an expression of hatred toward the victim because of his/her personal characteristics.” These personal characteristics may include but are not limited to, race, gender or gender identity, religion, sexual orientation, age, mental or physical disability, or ethnicity. To read more about how crimes in Florida are reclassified and enhanced if they are considered to be due to prejudice, as well as the prevalence and lack of reporting of hate crimes in Florida, visit our blog here. To read more about Florida’s fight to expand hate crimes, visit our blog here. Furthermore, to read about hate crimes in the form of misogynistic extremism, and how current Florida law fails to adequately protect women, visit our blog here.

Written by Sarah Kamide

Back to Top