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A man accused of firebombing three New Jersey synagogues may have been influenced by violent Xbox video games that aggravated his mental issues, his attorney said Tuesday.
The man, Anthony M. Graziano, 19, of Lodi, N.J., has pleaded not guilty to first-degree attempted murder, bias intimidation and aggravated arson, among other charges, for two attacks on synagogues. Graziano was in court Tuesday to seeking a reduction in his $5 million bail, which Superior Court Judge Liliana DeAvila-Silebi cut in half because Graziano is destitute.
No one was seriously injured when several objects, including a rigged aerosol can and a Molotov cocktail, were thrown into a Rutherford synagogue on Jan. 11, but one of the devices crashed through a residential window at about 4:30 a.m., burning a rabbi on the hand. His wife, five children and mother- and father-in-law escaped unscathed. The other two attacks also occurred in early January.
Graziano's attorney, Robert Kalisch, speaking outside court after the hearing Tuesday morning, described Graziano as a young man with mental health issues who had few friends and played violent games on his Xbox. Kalisch didn't say which games Graziano played.
"This is someone who may (have been), with their own problems they have within their own head, taken over by these games that young people play now — lots of violence, lots of meanness," Kalisch said, NBC station WNBC of New York reported.
(The Xbox system is made by Microsoft Corp., which is co-owner of msnbc.com in a joint partnership with NBCUniversal.)
Kalisch said Graziano called for an ambulance to come to his home in November, telling emergency workers that he was "feeling crazy or something."
Graziano was taken to hospital, where doctors recommended that he see a psychiatrist, Kalisch said.
"When you have emotional, psychiatric, psychological problems and you get involved in these games, the whole aura of it pervades, and it's not a game anymore. It becomes reality," Kalisch said.
Assistant Bergen County Prosecutor Martin Delaney argued against the reduction in bail, telling DeAvila-Silebi that Graziano was "hell-bent on destruction and murder."
Bergen County Prosecutor John Molinelli told reporters Tuesday last week that investigators found multiple Molotov cocktails in a wooded area near the Jewish Community Center of Paramus, The Jewish Standard reported. He said they traced the evidence to a foiled attack they believe Graziano had been planning for Jan. 7.
Authorities believe he acted alone and had no connection with the synagogues he targeted. They said he simply Googled temples that were close enough that he could reach them on his bicycle.
The attacks kept Jewish residents of the ethnically and religiously diverse communities of Bergen County, part of the New York metropolitan area, on edge for weeks until Graziano was arrested last week.
"We have no doubt that the arson and the attempted murder in Rutherford were directly the result of Mr. Graziano's hatred for people of the Jewish faith," Molinelli said. "We believe that he did this because they were synagogues and specifically to intimidate and cause alarm or concern to people of the Jewish community."
Graziano used empty raspberry Crush soda bottles, motor oil, duct tape and three cans of hair spray to create the bombs, Molinelli said. Detectives searched for stores where those items could be purchased together, which led them to a Wal-Mart store in Rutherford.
Security footage of Graziano buying the ingredients prompted tips that led to his arrest late Jan. 23, Molinelli said.
Authorities believe the attacks could point to a pattern of escalation had they not been thwarted by law enforcement, Molinelli said.
In addition to searching the Internet for how to build weapons, police found, Graziano searched the Web for any news coverage of the attacks. He also owned a firearm purchaser's ID, which would have allowed him to buy a rifle or a shotgun for hunting purposes, but not a handgun.
Graziano's father, also named Anthony Graziano, told WNBC last week that his son was a "great kid."
"This is not my son," the elder Graziano said. "This kid loves everyone."
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