A federal judge on Tuesday sentenced former Cornell student Maximilien R. Reynolds ’19 to two years in prison, concluding a case that began almost a year ago when a tip from a Walmart employee led to FBI agents busting through Reynolds’ Collegetown door.
The sentence followed Reynolds’ guilty plea in November, when he admitted that he had paid someone to purchase a rifle for him and had illegally possessed the rifle, as well as a silencer and makeshift bomb. Reynolds, 21, could be released before December because he has already been imprisoned for about 11 months and can earn a reduction in his sentence for good behavior, his lawyer said.
The raid of Reynolds’ apartment on Dryden Road in March 2018 uncovered a cache of weapons and protective gear, including the AR-15 rifle, 300 rounds of ammunition, knives, a bulletproof vest, a gas mask, a flare gun, a hack saw and more. As part of the plea deal, Reynolds also admitted to owning a handgun that police divers found at the bottom of the Cayuga Inlet about a month after the raid.
Ithaca Police Chief Pete Tyler said after the discovery of weapons in Reynolds’ apartment that, “Collectively, all of these items certainly suggest a specific recipe for large scale destruction,” and the timing of the arrest — about a month after a gunman killed 17 people at a high school in Parkland, Florida — stoked fears that Reynolds may have been planning a rampage himself. But Richard Southwick, an assistant U.S. attorney prosecuting the case, said Tuesday that investigators had not come across a motive after 11 months and searches of Reynolds’ computer and phone.
“There was nothing written down,” Southwick told The Sun.
Reynolds’ lawyer, Raymond Schlather J.D. ’76, has always maintained that the former student was motivated only by paranoia caused by a mental illness and never sought to harm anyone.
“I think the material that was provided to the court consistently made clear that there was no plan, there was no manifesto, there was no target, there were no threats,” Schlather said in an interview Tuesday afternoon. “It truly was a defensive reaction to the world beyond him fueled by his illness.”
Federal and local authorities raided Reynolds’ studio apartment in Collegetown Plaza after a Walmart employee in Ithaca told police that Reynolds had used a gift card to purchase large amounts of ammunition, knives and other gear. That led to what Tyler, the police chief, called the “alarming discovery” of weapons and gear at Reynolds’ apartment and a nearby storage unit.
Senior Judge Thomas J. McAvoy, of the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of New York in Albany, recommended that Reynolds be taken directly to a federal medical center in Devens, Massachusetts, run by the Bureau of Prisons to continue treatment. McAvoy also ordered that Reynolds be placed on supervised release for three years after his prison term ends.
Schlather said he had asked for Reynolds to be sentenced to the time he had already served, while prosecutors had asked for a sentence of about five and a half years. Southwick declined to confirm that figure because, like many documents in the case, the sentencing memoranda were filed under seal and are not available to the public.
Among the sealed documents, Schlather said, was a long letter that Reynolds wrote to the court in which he reflected on the past year and wrote about the importance of staying mentally fit.
“I think there is a commitment on his part, on his family’s part, and on all of those wonderful supporters around him — on everyone’s part — to do whatever’s necessary to keep him healthy,” Schlather said.
Reynolds had been a plant sciences major before being placed on forced academic leave at least two semesters before his arrest, The Sun reported last year. He had been taking classes at Tompkins Cortland Community College and helping with small tasks and landscaping at a Cornell professor’s home. Schlather said Reynolds wants to continue studying plant sciences.
“That’s his passion,” Schlather said. “I think you’ll find that he will go back to school and my guess is that he will be very successful.”
A Cornell spokesperson said the University did not have a comment on the sentencing.