American ISIS Radical Pleads Guilty to Murdering Neighbor in North Carolina

A member loyal to the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant waves an ISIS flag in Raqqa, Syria, June 2014.
A member loyal to the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant waves an ISIS flag in Raqqa, Syria, June 2014. | (Photo: Reuters/Stringer)

A North Carolina man who was sentenced to life in prison last month for planning to carry out a mass murder in the United States in the name of the Islamic State has plead guilty and given a second life sentence for murdering his elderly neighbor in December 2014.

According to the U.S. Justice Department, 21-year-old Justin Sullivan of Morganton, who is believed to have been radicalized in 2014, had been in contact with one of IS' leading online recruiters and was planning to carry out a terrorist attack on a soft target either in North Carolina or Virginia that could have possibly killed dozens if not hundreds of people if such a plan had been carried out successfully.

Sullivan's father, however, notified authorities about his son's radicalization. After discussing plans to carry out a terror attack in the U.S. with an undercover FBI agent on the internet, Sullivan was arrested in June 2015.

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Although a federal court sentenced him to life in prison late last month for planning to "commit an act of terrorism transcending national boundaries," Sullivan still faced charges associated with the December 2014 murder of his 74-year-old neighbor, John Bailey Clark.

On Monday, Sullivan appeared in a Burke County courtroom where he plead guilty to first-degree murder. According to the Charlotte Observer, authorities claimed that Sullivan shot Clark in the head with his father's rifle while Clark was asleep.

Sullivan was again sentenced to life in prison without parole.

"Those who committed terrorism are not martyrs, they are criminals," Judge Robert Ervin was quoted as saying in the hearing by WYFF.

According to the Observer, Sullivan's attorney, Victoria Jayne, has said that her client's guilty plea was in exchange for prosecutors no longer seeking the death penalty.

After the hearing, District Attorney David Learner said Sullivan showed a lack of remorse for his action and called the murder "as cowardly an act as has ever happened in Burke County, as was Sullivan's plan for mass murder."

The Observer notes that Sullivan did not apologize to members of Clark's family but asserted that he is not "a bad person" and "didn't mean for any of this to happen."

"I can't rationalize it. He certainly hasn't rationalized it. He says he really didn't feel converted to the ISIS extremism until after the shooting," Jayne was quoted as saying. "He really doesn't offer any insights."

U.S. Attorney Jill Westmoreland Rose said in a statement last month after Sullivan's conviction for plotting a terrorist attack that the life sentence handed to Sullivan "reflects the seriousness of his crimes."

"Sullivan was actively planning the mass killing of innocent people with an attack designed to inflict maximum casualties and maximum pain in the name of ISIS, a sworn enemy of our nation. Sullivan's allegiance to ISIS did not stop there," Rose said. "He also planned to film and send a video of his deadly attack to now-deceased Junaid Hussain, a prominent ISIS member based in Syria, and further expressed his wish to create a new branch of the so-called Islamic State in the United States."

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