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Armed man arrested at Phoenix Comicon ordered to state hospital

Mathew Stirling (Maricopa County Sheriff's Office Photo)

PHOENIX — A man who authorities said showed up to a 2017 Phoenix comic book convention with guns and ammunition was ordered Friday to serve his time in a state mental hospital.

A Maricopa County Superior Court judge sentenced Mathew Sterling, 32, to more than 25 years after finding him guilty but insane.

“There was never a doubt of what he did. The question was whether he knew right from wrong,” Dwane Cates, Sterling’s attorney, told The Associated Press. “This is someone who had a mental illness that just took over his life.”

Cates said the state mental health board could release him earlier than 2045 if the panel feels he is no longer a danger to society. If that’s the case, Sterling would still be under the board’s supervision. He could also be transferred to prison after receiving treatment.

In a 2018 evaluation, a psychiatrist stated Sterling appeared to meet the criteria for schizophrenia.

According to police and court records, Sterling had planned an attack at the popular entertainment convention, then called Phoenix Comicon and now known as Phoenix Fan Fusion.

Police were contacted about Sterling making online threats about killing officers, according to law enforcement. Police found and arrested Sterling inside the Phoenix Convention Center, and nobody was injured. Authorities believed Sterling was mentally disturbed after he told detectives he was a crime-fighting comic book character and planned to shoot police.

The verdict and sentencing was a culmination of a bench trial held in December.

The incident with Sterling prompted an immediate ban on all prop weapons and added security screenings. Under current Phoenix Fan Fusion rules, real or replica firearms, ammunition and explosives — regardless of what material they are made from — are prohibited.

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