Former Georgetown student Daniel Milzman, 19, pled guilty to one count of possession of an unregistered toxin in federal court Monday.
Appearing before Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, the defense issued a plea agreement, which, pending the court’s approval, would entail one year and a day to two years in federal prison, followed by three years of supervised release, in addition to financial penalties. The sentencing hearing has been set for Nov. 10.
Milzman has been held in D.C. Jail since he was arrested and charged with possession of a biological toxin March 18, after police discovered ricin in his dorm room on the sixth floor of McCarthy Hall earlier that week. He was found to possess 123 milligrams of ricin, with a toxic concentration of 7.7 micrograms per milligram.
After hearing Milzman’s defense attorney Danny Onorato’s claim that Milzman made the ricin with suicidal intentions, Magistrate Judge John Facciola ruled on March 25 that Milzman would be sent to a two-week in-patient psychiatric program at Sibley Memorial Hospital and then sent to remain at his parents’ house in Bethesda, Md., where he would be required to be under constant supervision in the house. In a hearing March 31, a U.S. District Court judge overturned Facciola’s ruling, ordering that he be detained and placed under “rigorous suicide watch.”
The possession charge could bring with it up to five years in prison and a $250,000 fine. Milzman’s plea deal, however, would include time already spent in jail, which is approaching six months this week. If the court approves the deal and sentences him to the shorter end of the sentence’s time range, with good behavior he could be released in November or December, according to The Washington Post.
Milzman’s attorneys have said that he planned to use the ricin to commit suicide, rather than to harm anyone else, and Milzman has been under suicide watch in D.C. Jail.
“Daniel Milzman put himself and others in danger by cooking up deadly poison in his Georgetown dorm room,” U.S. Attorney Ronald Machen Jr. said in a press statement. “Today Mr. Milzman owned up to his reckless behavior and acknowledged his crime before a federal judge. He is very lucky that none of his fellow students were hurt when he decided to manufacture this lethal substance.”
“The FBI, along with D.C. Fire and EMS, acted swiftly to respond to this dangerous situation, to investigate the origin of the ricin, which Mr. Milzman has admitted to possessing, and to access any remaining potential risks to students on campus,” Assistant Director in Charge of the FBI’s Washington Field Office Andrew McCabe said in a press release. “Possessing lethal biological toxins such as ricin is illegal, and those who choose to engage in this risky activity will be prosecuted by our partners at the U.S. Attorney’s Office with the full resources of the FBI.”
Abbe Smith, the director of the criminal defense and prisoner advocacy clinic at the Georgetown University Law Center, brought up that the defense could have originally sought sentencing under the Youth Rehabilitation Act, which gives youths under the age of 22 the opportunity to have their records sealed after serving the sentence. That is no longer an option as Milzman was sentenced in federal court, where the law does not apply.
“In my opinion, the best resolution of the case for Mr. Milzman would have been the case being transferred to the D.C. Superior Court from the federal court that whatever he pled to, or was prosecuted if it went to trial, could be resolved through something called the Youth Rehabilitation Act,” Smith said. “I’m sure that was the goal of the defense lawyers. It seems obvious that the government wasn’t willing to do that, that the government insisted on prosecuting him in federal court, where there is no such act for young people.”
According to Georgetown Director of Media Relations Rachel Pugh, Milzman is not currently enrolled at Georgetown, but she declined to comment on the procedure behind or time of his disenrollment because all procedures are confidential. Milzman, a Bethesda, Md. native whose father works as research director of the Department of Emergency Medicine at MedStar Georgetown University Hospital, was a member of the Class of 2016 and studied physics and mathematics on a pre-med track in the College.
Milzman’s lawyer, Danny Onorato, could not be reached for comment.