• Morganton man behind bars for ISIS-inspired plot pleads guilty to murder

    By: Dave Faherty


    MORGANTON, N.C. - A man who just started a life prison sentence for plotting to shoot hundreds of people for the Islamic State pleaded guilty Monday to a killing that authorities said he thought would help finance his plans.

    [READ MORE: Judge says Morganton man tied to ISIS is 'cold, calculated, cowardly']

    [READ: Department of Justice on Justin Sullivan sentencing]

    Justin Sullivan appeared in court Monday in Morganton and was sentenced to life in prison without parole.

    The 21-year-old was sentenced to life in federal prison last month after pleading guilty last year for his foiled plot to attack a nightclub or concert.



    Prosecutors said Sullivan shot 74-year-old John Clark in the bedroom of Clark's home and then buried him in a shallow grave in the front yard.

    Sullivan, who pleaded guilty to first-degree murder, showed little emotion in court.
    Authorities said Sullivan took a rifle from his father's gun cabinet and killed Clark, a neighbor, in December 2014. Court documents said Sullivan took the man's money for his terror plot.
    Investigators said Clark had $157 in his bank account and lived on a $600 monthly government check.
    Prosecutors said he committed the murder to prove to himself he could kill, and kill possibly hundreds of Americans.

    "Your honor, the murder of John Clark was as cowardly of an act ever planned in Burke County, North Carolina, as was the plan for mass murder,” said District Attorney David Learner. “To this very day, this defendant has showed no remorse whatsoever."

    The FBI and deputies linked Sullivan to the murder during an undercover federal investigation where Sullivan expressed his desire to kill hundreds of Americans in the name of ISIS. 

    The judge said Sullivan wanted to carry out an attack similar to the Orlando nightclub massacre that killed 49 people.

    His parents alerted authorities after a silencer arrived at their Burke County home. 

    Sullivan even said he might have killed his parents.

    "Do you still love your son? Of course, I have to love him no matter what,” said Rich Sullivan, Justin’s father.

    Ballistics linked a 22-rifle found hidden in Sullivan's home along with a mask to the unsolved murder of his neighbor just down the street.

    "I didn't mean for this to happen.  I mean, I never wanted to come to Morganton,” Sullivan told the judge before his sentencing. “That's all I got to say."

    The life sentence comes just weeks after Sullivan pleaded guilty to a terrorism charge in federal court.  Family members of Clark, who were in court, said Sullivan never apologized for the murder, but they are thankful for the efforts of law enforcement.  

    "We're very satisfied with that,” Glendale Clark said. “We wanted justice for Johnny and we got that."

    The district attorney explained why he didn't pursue the death penalty.

    He said that after talking with the family, and the fact that no one in North Carolina has been executed in more than a decade, prosecutors decided to move forward on the life sentence. 

    Sullivan watched ISIS videos and wanted to create his own Islamic state in the US. 

    Prosecutors said he wanted to get an AR-15 from a gun show in Hickory and use hollow point bullets to kill people at a concert or a club.


    Sullivan didn't realize that he was corresponding with an undercover FBI agent online.

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