A Hatfield Township man who said his son is serving in Iraq has pleaded guilty but mentally ill to firing 52 shots at two cars in the parking lot of a Lansdale mosque last year.

Robert Blackburn, 54, of 199 W. Vine St., was sentenced Monday to nine to 23 months in Montgomery County Prison, where he has been since the night of his arrest, and five years probation on charges of ethnic intimidation and possession of an instrument of crime.

“We’re glad he took responsibility for his actions,” Assistant District Attorney Carolyn Flannery said of the plea agreement, which was accepted by Montgomery County Judge William Carpenter.

“He knew what he was doing and what he was doing was wrong. But he was acting in part [because] of his mental illness and that’s why we didn’t push for state time,” she said.

During the early hours of Nov. 8, police discovered two cars had been riddled with bullets outside the North Penn Mosque at 600 Maple Ave. One car was hit 37 times and the other 15. Police found a .22-caliber rifle in Blackburn’s car and ammunition in his pockets.

Flannery said Blackburn told police the night of the shooting that he had been in the Army, his father had been in the Army and his son was on a third tour of duty in Iraq.

”He had it twisted in his mind that this was a symbol of what his son was fighting in Iraq,” she said. ”Because of his mental illness, he thought it was justified to act out his anger toward these innocent people,” she said.

Officials at the mosque did not immediately return phone calls for comment.

Ibrahim Hooper, a spokesman for the Council on American-Islamic Relations in Washington, D.C., said he is satisfied with Blackburn’s sentence, but more needs to be done to discourage this type of crime from occurring.

“We’re obviously encouraged that he’s going to pay a price for his actions,” Hooper said. “This will probably send a message to the local Muslim community that their safety is of concern to local law officials. Hopefully we can move on, but unfortunately this is just one incident in a fairly regular pattern of incidents [in the country]. We had a shooting at a mosque in Indiana and a guy rolled a pig head into a mosque in Maine. It’s a disturbing trend that needs to be addressed.”


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