Bomb Plot Suspect Guilty on all 3 Charges
AKRON– The jury in the federal trial of Joshua Stafford has found him guilty on all three charges against him: 1) conspiracy to use weapons of mass destruction against property of the United States, that would affect interstate commerce 2) did knowingly attempt to use a weapon of mass destruction a gaist property of the United States used in interestate commerce and 3) maliciously attempted to damage real property used in interstate commerce using weapons of mass destruction.
The jury spent only a short time deliberating Thursday afternoon.
Earlier, Stafford was the only witness to testify in his own defense.
He represented himself against charges that he conspired with four others in the attempted bombing of the Route 82 bridge over the Cuyahoga Valley National Park in April, 2012.
Stafford will not represent himself during the sentencing phase; Assistant Federal Public Defender Timothy Ivey, who served as Stafford’s advisory counsel during the trial, will represent him.
Ivey said Stafford was accepting of the verdict.
Stafford will be sentenced after a 90-day pre-sentence investigation.
Following his hour-long testimony Thursday morning, government prosecutors and Stafford delivered closing arguments in which Asst. U.S. Attorney Duncan Brown told the jury that although Stafford was brought into the plot well after the planning had begun by others, he agreed to it and willingly helped carry it out understanding the consequences.
“The government suggests the location was intended to bring down the Route 82 bridge and that intent was discussed with the defendant,” said Brown in his closing arguments.
“The defendant took possession of the government’s red phone; he served as a runner, carried this device, jogged down the trail, over the foot bridge to the pillars, set the bomb down, hunched over it; took all the steps that he needed to…” said Brown.
“On April 27th (when the plan was first explained to him) this defendant doesn’t just support the plan, he doesn’t just hear the plan, there are no ifs ands or uhs about it; he takes the substantial step by volunteering to do the job,” said Brown.
Earlier in the day Stafford took the most unusual step of questioning himself from the witness stand.
Federal Judge David Dowd first instructed Stafford that when he testified he would have to say the word “question” to identify a question he was asking himself, and say the word “answer” when he answered his own question from the witness stand.
Stafford spent an hour on the stand, most of it reading from prepared notes with the questions and answers.
During his testimony Stafford said he was never a part of the planning for the plot and that he was not included in the plans to buy the bombs from the undercover FBI agent.
He testified that he believed Wright, who brought him into the plot late in the planning, talked about doing a lot of different things and he never took Wright seriously.
“QUESTION: Why didn’t you believe that there was supposed to be a severe incident happening?” Stafford asked himself.
“ANSWER: Umm, because I didn’t think that that Douglas Wright was capable of doing such things. How many people that you know would actually do something like that?” said Stafford.
Stafford testified that he believed what the group had in mind was to go to a location to ‘tag’ or ‘paint’ a message, and that he never knew exactly what they had in mind.
He said he went along with the group because he was hungry and low on cigarettes and the confidential government informant promised to buy him a meal and a pack of cigarettes if he helped them just by carrying a box.
Stafford also claimed that had he known exactly what the plot was about he would never have gone along with it.
“QUESTION: If you had heard Douglas Wright say anything about doing something like the incident on April 30th, would you have wanted to be a part of it?”
“QUESTION: Why is that?”
“ANSWER: Because I don’t like hurting people.”
“QUESTION: Why don’t you like hurting people?”
“ANSWER: I just don’t like hurting people. People shouldn’t be hurt for any reason other than self defense.”
“QUESTION: What do you mean by self defense?”
“ANSWER: If somebody is trying to hurt me, I’m not going to let them…”
“QUESTION: So you would not have wanted to hurt anybody, not even on April 30th?”
“ANSWER: Not even April 30th, or I can’t remember the last time I ever had a thought of hurting somebody, intentionally hurting somebody or anything like that.”
In cross examination, prosecutors challenged Stafford’s claim that he would never hurt someone, asking Stafford about several attacks on guards while he was previously incarcerated.
During one of those attacks prosecutors asked about a guard who was left with permanent brain damage afterwards and another guard from a separate incident who Stafford slashed with a sharp item across his face and chest.
Stafford claimed that in both cases the guards initiated the attack on him.
Prosecutors also challenged Stafford’s claims that he did not know what he was helping to place at the foot of the bridge on April 30.
Four others, Douglas Wright, Brandon Baxter, Anthony Hayne and Connor Stevens have pleaded guilty to related charges and are serving prison time of between six and eleven-and-a-half years in federal prison.