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Former Cornell student who made violent threats to Jewish campus community pleads guilty in federal court

Ava Pukatch

The former Cornell University student who made violent, antisemitic threats to the Jewish campus community in October pleaded guilty in federal court on Wednesday.

Patrick Dai, 21, accepted a plea deal and pleaded guilty to posting threats to kill or injure another using interstate communications, which carries a maximum term of 5 years in prison. The U.S. Attorneys office gave an estimated federal sentencing range of 15 to 21 months, but could seek a higher sentencing if a hate crime charge is added.

Lisa Peebles, Dai's federal public defender, is arguing against a hate crime charge and advocating for a sentence to credit him for time served.

"Patrick is not antisemitic," Peebles said. "He's the opposite of that. And he wants people to understand that he knows that he did something very wrong and he regrets it, but he's certainly not antisemitic. If anything, he's anti Hamas."

Peebles notes Dai has been diagnosed with autism since proceedings began, saying he functions between the age of a 5 year old and 10 year old. She said Dai was thinking he could educate people on the horrors of Hamas when he made the posts threatening to shoot up the campus kosher dining hall, stab Jewish men and sexually assault Jewish woman.

"He eventually recognized that he owed an apology to folks for espousing or advocating for any type of violence," Peebles said. "And I might point out he had no means to carry out anything, had no intentions on carrying out any violent acts.

"it was a bad decision and a very bad day," Peebles continued." A bad couple of days for Patrick. He's very remorseful. He accepts responsibility and we're hoping to get him out and get him some support for people who have autism, adults with autism, because, in fact, that's what he needs."

Dai's mother, Bing Liu, was present in the courtroom gallery. She did not talk with reporters after the hearing, but Peebles said Liu has had regular contact with her son.

"[She] just supports him and assures him that he's going to be okay," Peebles said. "And she's not upset. He's very concerned about bringing disgrace to his family, so that was hard for him."

Dai will be sentenced August 12, 2024. He has been held without bail in the custody of U.S. Marshals Service in Broome County.

    Ava Pukatch joined the WRVO news team in September 2022. She previously reported for WCHL in Chapel Hill, NC and earned a degree in Journalism and Media from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. At UNC, Ava was a Stembler Scholar and a reporter and producer for the award-winning UNC Hussman broadcast Carolina Connection. In her free time, Ava enjoys theatre, coffee and cheering on Tar Heel sports. Find her on Twitter @apukatch.