Prosecutor: Evidence lacking for 1 accused in July 4 plot

RICHMOND, Va. (AP) — Federal prosecutors said they lack evidence to prove that one of two men accused in a July Fourth mass shooting plot in Virginia’s capital was planning such an attack.

The U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of Virginia included the detail in its recommendation for a six-month sentence for Rolman Balcarcel-Bavagas, who pleaded guilty to reentering the U.S. after deportation, WRIC-TV reported Friday.

On July 6, Richmond police announced that a tip helped thwart an Independence Day shooting and the arrests of two men. It was just two days after an Independence Day parade shooting that killed seven in Illinois. Officers seized two assault rifles, a handgun and hundreds of rounds of ammunition from the home where police said the men lived, but prosecutors said they didn't find guns in Balcarcel-Bavagas’ room.

Former Chief Gerald Smith resigned Tuesday after months of scrutiny for his comments at the July 6 news conference. Smith said the men planned a shooting at a fireworks show at the Dogwood Dell Amphitheater. But the Richmond Times-Dispatch later reported that records showed that Smith was informed in writing before his news conference that the location of any potential incident was not known.

In Thursday’s filing, U.S. Attorney Jessica Aber wrote that prosecutors reviewed the information gathered during the investigation into the tipster’s report and determined that it wasn’t necessary to consider it as part of the sentencing assessment.

“That is, although law enforcement acted lawfully and appropriately when investigating the tip on July 1, the United States lacks evidence now to prove beyond a preponderance of the evidence that the defendant was planning to shoot people at a big event on the 4th of July or commit other acts of violence,” Aber wrote.

Balcarcel-Bavagas and co-defendant Julio Alvarado-Dubon, both Guatemalan immigrants, were charged in state court with possession of a firearm by a non-U.S. citizen, but those charges were dropped after federal charges were filed. Alvarado-Dubon was charged with possession of a firearm by a non-U.S. citizen. Neither man has been charged in direct connection with the alleged plot.

Balcarcel-Bavagas is expected to be sentenced on Nov. 10. Aber wrote that a six-month sentence would keep Balcarcel-Bavagas, who prosecutors say has illegally entered the U.S. three times, from trying again.