Axe-Wielding Man Who Set Asian Students’ Hair on Fire With Blowtorch Only Ordered to Therapy

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The sentence for a black man who went on a violent spree in California a few years ago, using an axe, and a knife, and lighting the hair of strangers on fire with a torch, is to complete a program called “diversion therapy” for veterans, rather than serve prison time.

Brandon McGlone (now 49, but then 46) terrorized young men at a Berkeley boba tea shop, and Asian college students at a pizza shop, with a can of WD-40. McGlone, according to reports, walked up to a pair of men in a pizzeria, sprayed WD-40 on them, and then threatened to ignite it with a blowtorch.

McGlone then entered the Feng Cha Teahouse where several UC Berkeley Students were waiting in line to order. McGlone sprayed WD-40 at the students as he entered the teahouse and lit the blowtorch. The flames immediately ignited. McGlone left the building while his victims doused the fires. Thankfully, no serious injuries were sustained.

McGlone continued to threaten violence outside, as bystanders wrestled him to the ground. He flashed an axe and a knife at different times. Police found several dangerous weapons when he was arrested: “matches and two lighters; clothing that smelled like gasoline; a can WD-40 and four glass bottles containing gasoline which were later identified as Molotov Cocktails,” according to court documents.

It was also reported that he sprayed WD-40 on patrons at a Taco Bell Cantina the same day. McGlone was unable to set the patrons on fire.

One witness heard McGlone, who was at the teashop that evening, make a disturbing sound she called “an evil laugh” before setting the young Asian men on fire. McGlone allegedly told another man, “If you don’t see your family tonight, then someone else won’t.” McGlone was isolated from his family due to violent outbursts. McGlone attacked his estranged spouse just days earlier, repeatedly hitting her with his fist and a gun. The woman testified later in court that it was “the longest and scariest thing” she had ever experienced.

McGlone’s actions were finally brought to light on April 28th, more than two-and-a-half years after the incident. McGlone, an Air Force veteran with several tours of duty in Iraq and Afghanistan, was allowed to stand trial in Veterans Treatment Court. He pled not guilty to assault with a deadly weapon, possession of a destructive device, and three counts of assault with caustic chemicals in relation to the blowtorch incident and assault with a firearm and carrying a loaded firearm in relation to the assault against his wife.

McGlone’s public defense attorneys never denied his guilt, but they tried to gain sympathy by referring to his struggle to reintegrate himself into society following his military service. Emily Klein, McGlone’s attorney, argued that McGlone suffered from PTSD and drug abuse as a result of his service. He sought treatment for these issues and took part in it. McGlone’s defense team did not mention that he was convicted in 1999 of federal bank fraud, many years before the Iraq and Afghanistan wars.

McGlone had a criminal record, but his defense team convinced the judge to sentence him to a program of “diversionary treatment” for veterans instead of prison. Cramer stated that McGlone must complete the prescribed therapy and adhere to all conditions. McGlone will have his charges dropped if he meets these requirements. He will likely still avoid jail and be placed on felony supervision if he finishes the program in 18 months. Cramer stated that if he does not complete the program within 18 months, he will be removed from Veterans Treatment Court and could face eight years in prison.

Judge Cramer granted protective orders to McGlone and his family, including McGlone’s wife, as well as their 11-year-old daughter. These protective orders will continue to be in effect regardless of whether McGlone is able to complete his diversion treatment program.

McGlone was released from custody on Monday. On June 2, he is due to return to Veterans Treatment Court.