UPDATE: In Seattle’s downtown federal courthouse Thursday morning, Judge Ricardo S. Martinez sentenced Musab Masmari to ten years in prison for the New Year’s arson at Capitol Hill’s Neighbours nightclub.
Martinez doubled the sentence agreed to by both sides in the case, saying it was an exceptional case of arson that was clearly premeditated and not done in an alcoholic blackout, as Masmari had said in a written statement.”The community does need to be protected from the defendant in the future,” Martinez said. “It is not believable that he would’ve been in an alcoholic blackout.”
Masmari remained emotionless as his sentence was read and did not address the court.
“This could have been much worse,” said U.S. Attorney Todd Greenberg. “The people who were at the club deserve a lot of credit.”
Greenberg said Masmari had an anti-gay bias and there was reason to believe that setting the fire at Neighbours was a hate crime. However, Greenberg asked the judge not to raise the sentence based on hate crime motivations because it would not increase the sentencing guidelines and would open the possibility of appeals.
Outside the courtroom after the hearing, defense attorney Charles Swift said he may appeal the sentence. “Because of the political nature of this case, one always suspected this could happen,” he said.
Shaun Knittel, a spokesperson for Neighbours who was inside the club at the time of the fire, said he wanted to see a much higher sentence than the five years recommended in the plea agreement. “I’m actually disgusted,” he said prior to the judge’s sentencing.
Original Report — 7/30/14: The former Capitol Hill resident who pleaded guilty to setting a New Year’s Eve fire inside a crowded Neighbours nightclub is scheduled to appear in federal court Thursday for sentencing.
Under the plea agreement Musab Masmari will serve the mandatory minimum of five years in prison, although the judge in the case could sentence the 31-year-old up to the maximum 20 years allowed by law.
Masmari will not face terrorism or a hate crime charges for setting the fire inside the gay nightclub, though prosecutors signaled they may have had a case after learning that a “confidential informant” told investigators that Masmari said homosexuals should be “exterminated.” Prosecutors told CHS Masmari’s motives will be in question as part of the judge’s sentencing.
This week, Masmari’s defense filed a personal statement with the court where he blamed his actions on drinking too much alcohol before setting the fire. In the statement Masmari said he drank an entire “cheap bottle of whiskey” on New Year’s Eve and said he did not remember what happened afterwards.
“I do not believe that I am a bad man but when I get drunk I have done bad things. I swear that it is my intent to never drink again, and if I am offered a second chance at alcohol treatment, I will take it.” he wrote.
Several people who knew Masmari told CHS they suspected he suffered from some type of mental illness. Some Broadway shop owners told CHS they had to ask Masmari to leave their businesses for harassing customers. Following his arrest, Masmari was given a psychiatric evaluation, which is sealed by the court.
No one was injured in the Neighbours fire thanks to quick acting staff and patrons who were able to douse the flames before they spread into the packed dance floor.
Police and FBI arrested Masmari following a month-long investigation into the New Year’s Eve arson. According to police, Masmari had a one-way ticket to Turkey and was carrying both his Libyan and United States passports at the time of his arrest outside a Bellevue home. Police say “numerous” people called in to identify Masmari as the man seen in images from surveillance video recorded at the club the night of the attack.
Masmari once lived near Broadway and Roy, but stated in court hearings earlier this year that he had moved to the Eastside. His Facebook profile lists Benghazi, Libya as his hometown. In his statement, Masmari says he recognized the gas can found at the scene of the arson as his and that it was used to fuel the car he was living in so he could stay warm.
In February, Masmari pleaded not guilty to the arson charge in King County court but entered a guilty plea when federal prosecutors took over the case in May.
“This defendant violated people’s right to gather safely: he put more than 700 lives at risk when he purposely started a fire at a crowded nightclub on New Year’s Eve,” said U.S. Attorney Jenny Durkan in a written statement in May.