A Farmville man who admitted to regularly smoking marijuana in his heavily-armed home frequented by Longwood University students, was sentenced Thursday to seven years and 11 months in prison.
Robert N. Baldwin III, 50, who had no prior criminal record, pleaded guilty in July to possessing firearms while an unlawful user of a controlled substance and faced up to 10 years in prison. Federal sentencing guidelines called for a term of 87 to 108 months.
"This was a situation that created a powder keg ... that could have resulted in a lot of harm to a lot of people," said U.S. District Judge John A. Gibney Jr. The judge said he was prepared to impose a 108-month sentence, but took off the 13 months Baldwin has already served for a related conviction in state court.
Given a chance to speak before the sentence was imposed, Baldwin apologized for his misconduct and said, "I didn't hurt anyone, I wasn't planning to hurt anyone."
"I'm not a bad person or a crazy person," said Baldwin. Gibney interrupted him asking, "Why did you have all those guns?"
Baldwin said, "I collect guns. I'm a hunter." Gibney disagreed, noting the illegal weapons — such as an unregistered short-barrelled rifle and silencers — that were found in Baldwin's possession. "These were not for hunting ... this is just offensive and dangerous firepower," the judge said.
Baldwin’s guilty plea was part of an agreement with the government in which charges of possessing the unregistered silencers and a short-barreled rifle and for maintaining a drug-involved premises, were dropped.
A federal grand jury indictment alleged that Baldwin opened, used and maintained a place for distributing and using controlled substances from Sept. 1, 2017, to April 23, 2018.
His house, at 300 S. Virginia St., was searched by Farmville police and the Virginia State Police on April 23, 2018. Police were investigating complaints that Baldwin had opened his home to Longwood University students where they could regularly smoke pot.
An agent with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives testified Thursday that when the search was conducted, the police discovered Baldwin and several students inside the home smoking marijuana. A small amount of pot and some drug paraphernalia were discovered.
Records show that inside the house the police found the following items: 23 rifles, eight shotguns, six semiautomatic pistols, three revolvers, parts of firearms, three silencers, an improvised explosive device, more than 100 magazines capable of holding more than 15 rounds of ammunition, more than 23,000 rounds of ammunition, a tactical armored vest, a brand new Motorola car police radio, two sets of black soft armor, a gas mask and a bucket holding pipe bomb parts.
In addition, the search turned up a Virginia State Police baseball hat, tactical shirt, and in-service identification card. Baldwin, the authorities noted, was never employed by the state police.
The U.S. attorney's office reported that some of the tactical gear, clothing and weapons discovered displayed the logo of “the 3%ers."
A sentencing memorandum filed in the case said the "3%ers" advocate for a strict interpretation of the Second Amendment of the Constitution, "strongly believing in armed rebellion against perceived government overreach, especially with respect to gun laws."
Baldwin was convicted of possession of materials to make explosive devices in Prince Edward County Circuit Court. He was sentenced to 10 years, with all but eight years and 11 months suspended.
Stephen W. Miller, an assistant U.S. attorney, asked Gibney to impose a sentence within the guideline range, arguing that while an armed user of illegal drugs presents grave dangers, this case went far beyond a typical such case.
"He had tremendous firepower at his hands," Miller said. Baldwin was not simply a collector or someone interested in self-defense only. "The question screams: 'Why did he have all this?'" said Miller.
Baldwin's lawyer, Michael Brickhill, of Lynchburg, strongly rejected the notion his client was dangerous. Brickhill asked if Baldwin was the next mass killer, "or is this some gun nut who thought he was safe in his home?"
Brickhill told Gibney that the government had access to Baldwin's cellphone and other devices since the search of the home, but there was no evidence Baldwin was up to anything nefarious.
In a sentencing memorandum filed in the case, Brickhill wrote: "The government’s investigation, and that of the Commonwealth of Virginia, yielded no evidence that Baldwin committed, or that his home was the site of, any act of violence, threat of violence, conspiracy to commit acts of violence, or solicitations to commit acts of violence."
Brickhill added that, "in reality, Baldwin has no criminal history and is 50 years old – part of a demographic and age group for whom recidivism is unlikely." He added that Baldwin has lived in Farmville his entire life and has deep ties to his family and community.
For those and other reasons, Brickhill asked for a sentence at the bottom of the guideline range.