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Furrow Spared by His Mental History

Courts: Prosecutors dropped plans to seek execution after analyzing medical records. Gunman enters guilty plea.

January 25, 2001|DAVID ROSENZWEIG | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Federal prosecutors dropped their plan to seek the death penalty against white supremacist Buford O. Furrow Jr. after getting access to voluminous medical records showing that he had tried for a decade to get treatment for homicidal and suicidal urges, U.S. Atty. Alejandro N. Mayorkas said Wednesday.

In agreeing to allow Furrow to plead guilty and receive a mandatory life prison term for his hate-motivated shooting rampage in the San Fernando Valley, prosecutors were following Justice Department protocols that require them to weigh mitigating factors, such as mental illness, when seeking the death penalty.

Mayorkas said his prosecutors did not possess those records when they obtained permission from former U.S. Atty. Janet Reno early last year to bring a capital case against Furrow for killing a Filipino American mail carrier and seriously wounding four children and an adult at a Jewish community center in Granada Hills on Aug. 10, 1999.

After surrendering the next day, Furrow told FBI agents that he killed Joseph S. Ileto because the postal worker "looked Asian or Latino" and that he shot up the North Valley Jewish Community Center to send a "wake-up call for Americans to kill Jews."

For the Record
Los Angeles Times Saturday January 27, 2001 Home Edition Metro Part B Page 4 Metro Desk 1 inches; 33 words Type of Material: Correction
Buford Furrow--A quote in Thursday's Times describing white supremacist Buford O. Furrow Jr. as "a pathetic, cowardly man" was misattributed. The comment was made by James V. DeSarno Jr., head of the FBI's Los Angeles field office.

Furrow, a 39-year-old engineer from Washington state, entered his guilty plea early Wednesday before U.S. District Judge Nora Manella. He showed no emotion during the proceedings and calmly answered most of her questions with a "Yes, Your Honor," or "No, Your Honor."

Manella set sentencing for March 26.

Mayorkas said afterward that Furrow, a follower of the racist and anti-Semitic group Aryan Nations, "is a pathetic, cowardly man. What he did was remind us that we are all one."

While sharply condemning Furrow's "racial bigotry and religious intolerance," Mayorkas said the defendant had a long history of mental problems. He said his office did not know how extensive or serious those troubles were until late last year, when the federal public defender turned over Furrow's complete medical files.

Two government psychiatrists reviewed and analyzed more than 2,000 pages of medical records going back 10 years. They showed that Furrow had checked into psychiatric hospitals on three occasions and made frequent visits to hospital emergency rooms, complaining about everything from panic attacks to wanting to kill himself and others.

In October 1998, Furrow tried to commit himself to a private psychiatric facility. While being interviewed, he became angry and threatened staff members with a knife. He was arrested, pleaded guilty to assault with a deadly weapon and was sentenced to six months in jail.

The psychiatrists also studied records of Furrow's outbursts at the federal Metropolitan Detention Center, where he has been in solitary confinement since his arrest. Even while behind bars, Furrow continued to threaten to kill nonwhites, including a Latino inmate and several guards, according to court records.

He also was said to have threatened violence against his former wife, vowing to deliver her son's head to her on a platter.

Furrow, wearing handcuffs and leg irons, was brought into Manella's courtroom shortly after 8 a.m Wednesday. He smiled and joked with his lawyers before the judge took the bench.

In response to one query by the judge, Furrow said he was taking five medications, and rattled off their names. But, he said, "I feel clear-headed enough to follow" the proceedings.

Justice Department attorney Bobbi Bernstein read into the record a chronological account of Furrow's odyssey--from the day he left Washington state with seven automatic weapons and several thousand dollars stolen from his father to the day he surrendered to the FBI.

She disclosed one new detail: When Furrow arrived in Las Vegas after fleeing Los Angeles, he looked up the names of synagogues there, and considered attacking one of them.

"However, because his picture was being broadcast on national television and because he believed he had already succeeded in making the statement he wished to make, the defendant decided to 'get it over with' and turn himself in to the FBI in Las Vegas," Bernstein said.

She told Manella that Furrow was not insane when he killed Ileto or when he fired 70 rounds into the community center, wounding a receptionist, a teenage counselor and three boys, ages 5 and 6.

Manella told Furrow that by agreeing to plead guilty he was also agreeing to spend the rest of his life in prison. The plea agreement bars him from appealing the sentence or seeking a presidential pardon. Furrow said he understood.

"Are you pleading guilty here because you are in fact guilty?" the judge asked.

"Yes, your honor," he said.

"I find the pleas to be freely and knowingly made," Manella said. "The pleas in this case are accepted."

The Ileto family sat in the back row of the courtroom. A few young women fought back tears. Later, the family joined Mayorkas, the prosecution team and other law enforcement officials at a news conference.

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