Buford O. Furrow Jr. plead guilty Jan. 24 to seriously wounding five people during a shooting rampage at the North Valley Jewish Community Center (NVJCC) and to killing a Filipino American mail carrier. In a plea bargain with federal prosecutors, Furrow agreed to a lifetime prison sentence without possibility of parole, appeal or pardon.
The self-avowed white supremacist was spared a possible death sentence after prosecution and defense concluded that Furrow suffered from mental illness and severe psychiatric problems.
During his attack on the NVJCC in Granada Hills, Furrow sprayed the lobby with 70 bullets, wounding an adult receptionist, a teenaged counselor and three young campers.
Subsequently, Furrow encountered and fatally shot mail carrier Joseph Ileto because he was "angered at the sight of a non-white federal employee," U.S. Attorney Alejandro N. Mayorkas said at a news conference.
In his attack on the Jewish center on Aug. 10, 1999, Furrow shot the receptionist "because he presumed her to be Jewish," Mayorkas said, then fired indiscriminately at the children with intent to kill "because he presumed that they were also Jewish."
In his initial confession to the FBI, Furrow said that he considered the NVJCC shooting "a wakeup call to America to kill Jews."
Families of the five now-recovered JCC shooting victims did not appear at the news conference and either were not available or declined to comment. However, Mayorkas said that he had spoken with the families before agreeing to the plea bargain and that they were supportive of his decision.
The president of the NVJCC, Nancy Parris Moskowitz, said in a phone interview, "We are all relieved that we won't have to deal with the pain of appearing in a lengthy court trial and that this man won't be in a position to harm anyone else.
"There are still many searing memories, but as an institution we are moving forward, with the full support of the Jewish community," Moskowitz said. "All of us have also become more involved in social issues, such as hate crimes and gun control."
Loren Lieb, the mother of Joshua Stepakoff who was wounded in the attack, added that "I am relieved to have this over with and satisfied with the outcome. We were aware that this kind of plea bargain was in the works."
Furrow has told investigators that he had initially scouted for attack such high-profile Jewish institutions as the Simon Wiesenthal Center and its Museum of Tolerance, University of Judaism and Skirball Cultural Center, but found security too tight at these places.
One new detail surfaced during the Jan. 24 court session. When Furrow arrived in Las Vegas the day after the JCC attack and the killing of Ileto, he looked up the names of synagogues there and considered attacking one of them.
"Because his picture was being broadcast on national television and because he believed he had succeeded in making the statement he wished to make, (Furrow) decided to 'get it over with' and turn himself in," said Justice Department attorney Bobbi Bernstein.
"The cause of justice has been served," said Rabbi Abraham Cooper, associate dean of the Wiesenthal Center. Added Anti-Defamation League Regional Director David A. Lehrer in a statement, "A clear and unambiguous message has been sent that the commission of hate crimes will result in conviction and a severe penalty."
Furrow's formal sentencing by U.S. District Judge Nora Manella is scheduled for March 26.