West Palm Beach VA gunman gets 16-plus years in prison, a likely life sentence
WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. (Tribune News Service) — An Army veteran and double amputee who opened fire at the West Palm Beach VA Medical Center in Riviera Beach nearly three years ago, injuring two people, will likely die in prison, a federal judge said Friday as he handed 62-year-old Larry Ray Bon a 16½-year sentence.
U.S. District Judge Kenneth Marra said he took no pleasure in all but assuring that Bon will never again live outside prison walls.
“But the individuals who were trying to assist Mr. Bon were hurt physically, mentally and emotionally and will be scarred for the rest of their lives,” he said. “The events were horrific.”
While he rejected a federal prosecutor’s request for a 25-year sentence, Marra also said the 12½-year term sought by his defense attorney was too lenient.
“I don’t think there’s any question (a higher sentence) is warranted under the facts of this case,” he said during the hearing that was held on Zoom.
Those present at February 2019 shooting speak of stress, health problems
An emergency-room nurse told Marra that his existing health problems got worse after he went to help Bon on Feb. 27, 2019, and instead found himself staring down the barrel of a gun.
“I yelled, ‘He’s got a gun. He’s got a gun,’“ Christian Drew said, describing how he tried to warn others as he ran down the hospital corridor. “He’s still firing at me. He fired eight to nine times. I counted.”
Since that day, Drew said he has trouble eating and sleeping. He has lost more than 60 pounds and is on kidney dialysis. His existing kidney problems were exacerbated by the trauma, he said. “I believe he was trying to kill me and other staff members there,” Drew said. “I don’t want him to be able to do this to anyone else.”
Others who were caught in the crossfire, including hospital worker Alfred Gaines, said they, too, suffer ongoing effects. “You have taken so much away from me both physically and mentally,” Gaines, who was shot in the buttocks, said in a letter that was read to Marra.
Dr. Bruce Goldfeder, who wrestled the gun away from Bon and was shot in the neck, previously told Marra about the anguish he experienced.
On Friday, however, he said he forgave Bon. “I only want what’s best for him and his life, meaning that he gets the best mental health care possible,” Goldfeder said. “I don’t wish him any harm. I just want him to get the care he needs.”
Attorney says prison hospital stay got gunman mental-health care he needs
Assistant Public Defender Kristy Militello, who represented Bon, said in the last year Bon has finally gotten the treatment he needed to deal with mental illness that has plagued him for most of his life.
The treatment came after he pleaded guilty in July 2020 to three counts of assaulting a federal employee and one count of possession of a firearm in a federal facility with intent to commit a crime. He received a provisional 25-year sentence and was sent to a medical center at a federal prison in North Florida to receive mental health treatment.
According to the agreement hashed out between Militello and Assistant U.S. Attorney Susan Osborne, Bon would be formally sentenced once his mental health had been restored. In July, prison officials said Bon no longer needed inpatient psychiatric treatment, paving the way for Friday’s hearing.
While Bon had been involuntarily committed for mental health treatment on numerous occasions, his stay at the federal prison marked the first time he received extensive and long-lasting treatment, Militello said.
Both his mental illness and his physical problems, including heart ailments, were addressed. He lost one leg in a motorcycle accident and the other one to an infection, his family previously told The Palm Beach Post. He left the military during basic training.
During his stay at the federal prison hospital, Bon reconnected with his estranged family in Michigan, who agreed they would support him after his release, Militello told Marra. His sister logged in for the Zoom hearing.
Having been restored to health, there was every reason to believe Bon would continue to take his medication after his release, Militello said.
Gunman expresses remorse as prosecutor fears old patterns will re-emerge
Osborne countered that Bon had a history of escalating violence. Before he opened fire, he called in a bomb threat to the Riviera Beach hospital because he wasn’t satisfied with the care, she said.
“Once he gets out of an institution, he’s going to be back to the same pattern,” she said. “He won’t take his medication and will react with anger and loss of control.” He tried to kill people who were trying to help him, she said. It was a “miracle” Goldfeder survived and that others weren’t seriously hurt, she said.
Mitello insisted Bon wasn’t trying to kill staff at the VA. Instead, she said, Bon told multiple people that he wanted to die and hoped his actions would prompt officials to call police, who would fatally shoot him.
Due to the severity of his health problems and the known ill effects of prison life, she said it was unlikely Bon would reach 75.5 years, the average life expectancy of white men in the United States. Under the sentence, Marra imposed, Bon would be released when he’s about 78½ years old.
For his part, Bon, who has gained weight and looked far more alert than he did at previous hearings, voiced remorse for his actions.
“I apologize to the doctor and the VA staff for my actions,” he said. “I really am sorry.”
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