Crime & Courts

SC killer, trapped by FBI’s mail-order bomb sting, gets 43-year sentence


A Lexington County killer who tried to buy a mail-order bomb from his prison cell but was foiled by an FBI cyber-sting operation was sentenced Monday to 43 years in federal prison.

That prison term, handed down by U.S. District Court Judge Michelle Childs, is to be served after Michael Young finishes serving a 50-year sentence for murder in state prison.

Young, now 32, finishes his state sentence in 2057, when he turns 70, so he almost certainly will die in prison.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Will Lewis asked Childs to give Young the maximum sentence — 43 years — for conspiring to order a mail-order bomb over the internet to kill his ex-wife. The bomb was to be booby-trapped so it would explode upon opening.

“He created this scheme. It was sadistic. It was cruel,” Lewis told the judge.

In 2007, Young shot and wounded his estranged wife and killed her father, 49-year-old Robert Lynn Bell, who was trying to protect her, in a parking lot at Columbiana Centre.

In 2011, Young was convicted of murder and sentenced to 50 years in prison. In a hearing that year, Young’s lawyer, John Delgado, told the judge that Young felt remorse and was “a completely different person now.”

But the evidence in Young’s bomb trial last year depicted a man obsessed with killing his ex-wife, who had remarried and moved to Florida. Although in prison, Young was clever enough to get an illegal cellphone and use it to get on the internet. There, he navigated the “Dark Web” — the internet’s seamy underbelly where criminals hawk their wares.

According to FBI agents who testified, Young used his contraband cellphone to contact a man he thought was a Russian arms dealer. In reality, “Marcus” was an undercover FBI agent who trolls the Internet trying to catch cyber-criminals.

In a months-long exchange of emails, Young got “Marcus” to promise to send a mail-order high explosive to a Columbia address. Young, who was operating a thriving marijuana business from prison using his cellphone’s internet connection, had Columbia-area co-conspirators who agreed to send the “bomb” to the ex-wife’s Florida address.

Meanwhile, an FBI lab manufactured a fake bomb with just enough explosive residue in it to qualify as a bomb but not dangerous enough to harm anyone. The FBI sent the fake bomb through the mail, and a friend of Young’s dropped it off at the Irmo post office.

The FBI used some 40 agents in cars and two Cessna airplanes to track Young’s out-of-prison conspirators.

Before Childs’ pronounced sentence Monday, the mother of Young’s ex-wife read a statement from the woman. In her statement, Shauna Clark asked the judge to give Young the maximum sentence.

‘My children are always eager to open up packages, and this could have killed them,” Clark wrote, adding she suffers psychological trauma from being the target of a bomb. “This has been devastating to my family.”

In explaining the 43-year sentence, Judge Childs said she took into account that Young, while imprisoned for trying to kill his ex-wife, didn’t stop planning her murder.

In a brief statement to the court, Young told the judge, “I am sorry. ... I stand before you today to take responsibility for what I have done.”

Take a look into SC's dark history of death row and how serial killer Donald "Pee Wee" Gaskins carried out a revenge killing of another inmate.

John Monk has covered courts, crime, politics, public corruption, the environment and other issues in the Carolinas for more than 40 years. A U.S. Army veteran who covered the 1989 American invasion of Panama, Monk is a former Washington correspondent for The Charlotte Observer. He has covered numerous death penalty trials, including that of the Charleston church killer, Dylann Roof.