Friday 21 October 2016

Man accused of attempting to shoot Donald Trump pleads guilty to lesser charges

British man expected to be jailed for two years

Georgina Stubbs and Ryan Wilkinson

Published 14/09/2016 | 07:43

A British man who tried to grab a police officer's gun at a Donald Trump rally and open fire has pleaded guilty in a bid to avoid a lengthy jail sentence.

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Michael Sandford, of Dorking in Surrey, was due to stand trial over the incident at a Las Vegas casino where the Republican presidential hopeful was speaking on June 18.

The 20-year-old appeared in court in Nevada on Tuesday, where he pleaded guilty to charges of being an illegal alien in possession of a firearm and disrupting an official function. He had previously denied the charges.

Sandford faced up to 20 years in jail had he been found guilty of the offences at a trial, although the plea bargain may see his sentence significantly shortened.

Lynne Sandford and her son Michael
Lynne Sandford and her son Michael

Under the terms of his plea agreement he could face between 18 and 27 months in prison before being deported.

Sandford is due to learn his fate at a sentencing hearing on December 13, and his family fear he may still face years in jail.

His mother, Lynne Sandford, spoke to the Press Association from the UK shortly after her son's guilty pleas were entered.

She said: "The upshot of it is that there is no certainty. Even though he has signed the plea agreement, which should be the best option, it won't necessarily happen that way.

"The judge at sentencing can either agree with what is in the plea bargain or he can totally overthrow that and impose a punishment of his own."

Mrs Sandford flew with a UK-based lawyer to her son in custody last week and persuaded him to sign the plea agreement, something she said he had been "pondering" over doing for some time.

Lawyers acting for Sandford said he suffers seizures, obsession-compulsion, anxiety and autism spectrum disorders and his mother said he was recently diagnosed as having had a psychotic episode at the time of the incident.

"He is now receiving medication for that and he is feeling the benefit of it," she added.

When Sandford appeared in court on Tuesday a judge said he was satisfied that he was fit to enter the plea.

Standing in orange jail clothes with the word "detainee" across his back, Sandford acknowledged that he has been treated in the past for mental illness.

Entering his pleas, he said: "I tried to take a gun from a policeman to shoot someone with, and I'm pleading guilty."

Mrs Sandford said her son told her he was "incredibly sorry and remorseful for everything," adding: "Everybody says this is not him - this is so opposite to what he is."

Last week's tearful reunion was the first time the mother-of-two had seen her son since he left for America more than a year ago.

"We were able to put our hands side-by-side through the mesh and I could at least feel the warmth of his hands through it. But to travel 5,500 miles and still not be able to give him a hug is incredibly difficult," she said.

Sandford's sister and grandmother also made the journey to visit him at the remand centre, with his mother saying the whole incident has been hard on the family.

"For my mum especially, she was not granted the face-to-face visitation through the mesh and she is in her late 70s and just wonders if she will see him in the flesh again," she said.

"He is the only male in the family left and he means a tremendous amount to us."

Mrs Sandford added: "Obviously it was extremely difficult to turn around and leave him and get on the plane - not knowing when we will see him again.

"When I left he just looked so sad, forlorn and dejected."

She revealed her son told her "coming to America was the worst thing he ever did", and said he is "desperate" to return home.

"He is not coping, he said to me: 'I don't know how to get through each day let alone longer than that."

Sandford told his mother that he was being kept in a cell so narrow he could reach across by stretching out his arms.

"It is just as long as the bed which he has one side and a toilet the other," she continued.

"There is no window - he gets 10 minutes of exercise outside each day which is in an outside cage, but due to the desert heat that is all he can manage anyway.

"There is nothing to do there - it is very stark and barren. He is not allowed any keepsakes other than letters and pictures that we send, but even those get cleared out once a week."

His mother said that even though things are still uncertain they are at least "one step closer" to getting him home.

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