British man expected to plead guilty in Trump attack case

September 13, 2016

LAS VEGAS (AP) — A British man accused of trying to grab a police officer’s gun to shoot Donald Trump at a campaign rally in Las Vegas could face about two years in a U.S. prison and then deportation after an expected guilty plea, prosecutors said.

Michael Steven Sandford was scheduled to enter his plea Tuesday in U.S. District Court in Nevada to federal charges of illegal alien in possession of a firearm and disrupting an official function.

Sandford could have faced up to 20 years in a U.S. prison if he had been convicted at trial of both charges.

Federal officials said Sandford was 20 when he was arrested June 18 after authorities say he grabbed for a Las Vegas police officer’s gun while Trump was on stage at a 1,500-seat theater at Treasure Island hotel-casino.

It wasn’t clear if Trump recognized a threat before officers escorted Sandford out of the auditorium. Sandford didn’t get the gun before he was arrested and no shots were fired.

Sandford later told a federal agent that he drove from California to Las Vegas with a plan to kill Trump — then a Republican candidate for president, not the nominee — and that he rented a 9mm pistol at a Las Vegas gun range and fired 20 shots at a paper target the day before Trump’s appearance, according to court documents.

Sandford told the agent it was the first time he had ever fired a gun.

Sentencing guidelines call for 18 to 27 months in prison for the offenses after credit for time served, accepting responsibility for the crime and avoiding trial, which had been set to start Oct. 3. Under the plea deal, Sandford won’t be able to appeal.

His signed promise to plead guilty was dated Friday, after his mother, Lynne Sandford, and a lawyer from London arrived in the U.S. and met with him in custody.

Deputy federal public defender Brenda Weksler was also involved in those meetings. She declined to comment.

Attorney Salmo Chahal said Michael Sandford needs medical care for ailments including the chronic abdominal inflammatory disorder Chron’s disease, seizures, the autism spectrum disorder Asperger’s, obsession-compulsion and anxiety.

“Also it now seems he was acting under the influence of delusions at the time” of the incident, Chahal said, citing findings of a psychiatrist she enlisted to review the case.

“Michael was not in control at the time of the events and needs help,” the attorney said in an email. “He is desperate to return to the U.K. to be near his family as he has no ties with the U.S.A.”

Sandford stated in a previous court hearing that he understood the charges against him.

A U.S. magistrate judge who approved the mother-son meeting called the case unique because of Sandford’s age, the nature of the charges, and the “context” of the offense.

Sandford told the federal agent that he expected he’d be killed during the assassination attempt. But he said that if he wasn’t killed, he’d make another attempt on Trump’s life at another political rally in Phoenix, the court documents state.

Sandford acknowledged asking the police officer at the Las Vegas event if he could get Trump’s autograph, then grabbing with both hands for the officer’s 9mm handgun.

The plea agreement acknowledges Sandford had been in the U.S. illegally for almost 10 months at the time of his arrest. It says his tourist visa expired Aug. 30, 2015.

As a result of his plea, “It is almost certain that he will be permanently removed … and will not be able to return to the United States at any time in the future,” the document said.