Judge sentences school bomb plotter

By Alex Bridges

An Edinburg man must serve a lengthy probation with many restrictions for threatening to bomb a Shenandoah County school.

Circuit Judge Dennis L. Hupp on Wednesday sentenced Aaron Trump to 10 years in prison, with all time suspended except for 12 months, for threatening to bomb Stonewall Jackson High School.

Trump, 18, pleaded guilty in March to creating a hoax bomb and communicating a bomb threat. He will receive credit for the nine months he has spent in jail. Trump also received five years in prison, all suspended, for building a hoax explosive device. Hupp dismissed Trump’s remaining charge of conspiring to commit an act of terrorism at the prosecution’s request during Wednesday’s session in Shenandoah County Circuit Court.

Communicating a bomb threat carries a maximum sentence of 10 years in prison. Creating a device made to look like a bomb carries a maximum of five years in prison. Sentencing guidelines called for probation and no incarceration. A judge does not have to abide by the guidelines.

Assistant Commonwealth’s Attorney Louis Campola had asked Hupp at Trump’s sentencing July 2 to impose some time of active incarceration for the defendant.

“Obviously we wish he got more prison time,” Campola said Wednesday afternoon. “However, overall we’re happy with the decision.”

The case put Hupp in a difficult position and the prosecutors understood why the judge made his decision, Campola said.

Defense attorney Brandon Keller sought probation for his client, arguing that prison time would likely make Trump a greater threat to the community once released.

“It’s essentially what we asked for and I like the reasoning that he provided,” Keller said. “I think once you consider the evidence and consider … the sentencing options that were available, I think it’s reasonable, it’s logical to reach this conclusion. I think it’s what needed to be done.”

Once released from jail, Trump must begin his lengthy probation, which includes 10 years of supervised probabation and 20 years unsupervised. Hupp imposed more than 20 special conditions Trump must follow or risk serving any or all of his prison terms. Campola said he’d never seen such an extensive list of conditions with probation.

Hupp took a week to ponder the case and to determine punishment. The judge called this a “weighty case” in a long statement he issued to explain the punishment he imposed.

“The facts of this case are very disturbing and even alarming,” Hupp stated. “We all cringe and feel sick at heart when hearing of acts of violence, especially those directed at our schools and our young people.”

Hupp cited previous violent incidents that took place at Columbine High School in Colorado, Virginia Tech and at the school in Newtown, Connecticut.

“It is chilling to think that Shenandoah County, and, specifically, our Stonewall Jackson High School, could have been added to that list,” Hupp stated. “We will never know if Aaron Trump would have followed through with his plans.”

Hupp credited the person to whom Trump sent text messages about the plan for alerting authorities. Trump’s counselor acted professionally and responsibly in notifying administrators who, in turn, sought law enforcement, Hupp stated. Trump’s actions were halted.

Hupp noted that no one may know if Trump would carry out his plan but he did accumulate materials that he could have used in an attack such as the one described in his journal.

Trump has no previous record of violence, Hupp continued.

“It does appear to me that he did indeed recognize the waywardness of his thoughts and sought help from his counselor,” Hupp stated.

Trump’s counselor continued treatment of the defendant and “feels quite confident that [Trump] is making progress in his thought processes,” Hupp said. Psycholigist Philip Pate found that Trump poses a low to moderate risk for future violence.”

Pate also suggested that Trump’s Asperger’s syndrome makes the defendant easily influenced by others, Hupp stated. Placing Trump in prison would subject him to negative influences and likely he would model the behaviors of other inmates.

The commonwealth’s attorney pointed out that Trump likely would encounter negative influences in group therapy, Hupp said. These influences would not be as intensive or extensive, the judge added.

Hupp also gave a reason why he did not sentence Trump as a juvenile since the defendant made the plans before he turned 18. The judge said Trump’s sanctions needed to include extensive supervision.

“My primary concern is the safety of the general public but in addressing this concern, I believe we can put Trump on the right track as well,” Hupp concluded.

Contact staff writer Alex Bridges at 540-465-5137 ext. 125, or abridges@nvdaily.com