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Irvine man pleads guilty to 2022 Planned Parenthood firebombing

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CBS News Los Angeles Live

A 22-year-old Irvine man was the final of three suspects to plead guilty Thursday to the firebombing of a Costa Mesa Planned Parenthood clinic in 2022.

Tibet Ergul pleaded guilty to conspiracy to damage an energy facility and intentional damage to a reproductive health services facility. Co-defendants Chance Brannon and Xavier Batten already pleaded guilty to their roles in the firebombing.

Security footage showed two masked and hooded men throwing a Molotov cocktail at the door of the clinic around 1 a.m. The device landed against a wall next to the glass door and erupted into flames, which spread up the wall and across the ceiling above the glass door. Luckily, no one was in the center at the time.

The clinic was forced to close and cancel appointments. Clinic employees told investigators about 30 appointments had to be rescheduled.  

Brannon, 24, a former Marine of San Juan Capistrano pleaded guilty Nov. 30 to conspiracy, malicious destruction of property by fire and explosive, possession of an unauthorized destructive device and intentional damage to a reproductive health services facility. 

Batten, 21, of Brooksville, Florida, pleaded guilty in January to possession of a destructive device. 

Brannon and Ergul put together the Molotov cocktail the day before the bombing in Ergul's garage, prosecutors said. Batten coached Brannon how to construct the fiery device.

Brannon and Ergul ignited the device the following day and hurled it at the clinic's entrance, sparking a fire, prosecutors said.   

Batten helped and conspired with Brannon to firebomb the clinic with a Molotov cocktail from February through March 13, 2022, according to his plea agreement.  

FBI Los Angeles Field Office

According to Brannon's plea deal, he admitted that he "considered various targets, including the Anti-Defamation League in San Diego."

Related: Costa Mesa Planned Parenthood firebomb attack: 3rd suspect arrested

But he settled on Planned Parenthood "because he wanted to make a statement against abortion, scare pregnant women away from obtaining abortions, deter doctors, staff and employees of the clinic from providing abortions, intimidate and interfere with the patients of the clinic, and encourage others to engage in similar acts of protest," according to the plea deal.

"This attack was not random," U.S. Attorney Martin Estrada said earlier. "It was a planned and concerted effort to attack the clinic on account of the services it provided -- namely reproductive health services. There were repeated discussions prior to the attack and Batten instructed Brannon on how to construct a Molotov cocktail."

The defendants "boasted about what they had done" in messages to each other after the attack, Estrada said.

After the firebombing, Ergul "bragged" to a friend and added he "wished he could have recorded the ignition," Assistant U.S. Attorney Kathrynne Seiden said at Thursday's hearing.  

The FBI offered a reward of up to $25,000 for information leading to an arrest of suspects, prompting a call from a witness, according to FBI Special Agent Jennifer Hirsch.

The witness, who was a friend of the suspects in high school, said Ergul sent text messages admitting his involvement in the bombing, according to Hirsch.

She said the text message read, "Boom (fire emoji)" at "1500 Blk nutmeg plaza... Costa Mesa health center/Planned Parenthood clinic."

Brannon and Ergul had discussed other targets and plans of mayhem, including disrupting the power grid in Orange County and attacking the parking lot or electrical room of Dodger Stadium on a night celebrating LGBTQ pride.

They were arrested two days before Pride Night at the stadium.

Brannon and Ergul were also charged with one count of possession of an unregistered destructive device and one misdemeanor count of intentional damage to a reproductive health services facility, a violation of the Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances Act, prosecutors said.

Brannon also agreed to pay about $1,000 in restitution for damage to the building.

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