Lawyer downplays racism after Minnesota man firebombed Somali cafe

Hate crime or no, Matthew Gust is going to prison for a long time.

Hate crime or no, Matthew Gust is going to prison for a long time.

On an unseasonably warm prairie night last December, Matthew Gust hopped into his mom's car to prepare for an evening that would change his life. The man from East Grand Forks, Minnesota made a pit stop at a local gas station, pumping an unusual 81 cents' worth of fuel – enough for about 45 ounces, according to court documents.

The 25-year-old reportedly has an affection for Bud Light by the 40-ounce bottle, which might have come in handy when he allegedly whipped up a Molotov cocktail in a jumbo beer bottle. Under the veil of the night, which didn't cloak him from various security cameras, a ski-masked Gust smashed the homemade firebomb through the window of Juba Coffee House and Restaurant. The Grand Forks business was torched, suffering around $90,000 worth of damages.

Days earlier the Somali-owned cafe was hit by vandals who spray-painted what some described as Nazi-like symbols and the words “go home” on Juba's exterior. Though it's unclear if the two crimes were connected, locals and the media have speculatively connected the dots. Cops have said there are various ways to interpret the graffiti.

However, Gust's attorney Ted Sandberg says people have rushed to racist judgment, and he called the racial component overblown.

“While the racial undertones of this case were often over-emphasized and exaggerated by many people outside of the case, my client and the U.S. government never gave into such hyperbole or opinions,” Sandberg told the Associated Press, without offering an alternative motive.

Sure, maybe it wasn't a crime of bigotry. Gust could have been driven to arson by poorly crafted latte foam art or consistently being left too much room for cream.

Matthew Gust, 25, of East Grand Forks

Matthew Gust, 25, of East Grand Forks

Either way, Gust will soon have to adjust to crappy prison coffee, as a plea deal reached this week could put him behind bars for 15 years. While he pleaded guilty to malicious use of explosive materials and interfering with a federally protected activity, a third charge carrying a minimum 30-year sentence will be dropped.

Prior to this, Gust's record was relatively clean, except for the time he threatened workers at an adult entertainment store in Grand Forks and was eventually tased and arrested.

As for Juba, the owners are reportedly collecting insurance money and hope to reopen the business. Hopefully they'll soon be back to pouring coffee in peace.