William Cottrell, A.B. '02, was sentenced on Monday to over eight years in prison and fined $3.5 million in restitution for his involvement in a firebombing spree on SUVs in California's San Gabriel Valley. Cottrell, a physics Ph.D. student at Caltech, was found guilty of seven counts of arson and one count of conspiracy last November. He was acquitted of using a destructive device during a crime of violence, a charge that carried a 30-year minimum sentence.
Much of the argument during sentencing deliberations centered around Cottrell's intelligence and contrition. According to The Los Angeles Times, Cottrell expressed remorse, and said that all he wanted was to be a physicist. Despite Cottrell's recognized talent, U.S. District Judge R. Gary Klausner ruled that exceptions could not be granted for intellectual brilliance.
The Los Angeles Times reported that Cottrell's attorneys intend to appeal the conviction. The defense claims that Cottrell suffers from a form of autism known as Asperger's syndrome, making it difficult for him to gauge the intentions of others, which casts doubt on his complicity with the criminal acts of which he has been convicted. Klausner refused to consider testimony of a psychologist on Asperger's syndrome during the trial.