Mental fitness testing ordered for Illinois man accused of bomb charge, threatening Obama

By Jim Suhr, AP
Thursday, September 23, 2010

Man accused of threatening Obama ordered tested

EAST ST. LOUIS, Ill. — A federal judge ordered mental competency testing on Thursday for an Army veteran accused of threatening President Barack Obama and then falsely claiming to have a bomb during a standoff in southern Illinois that followed his pledge to “start an apocalypse.”

U.S. Magistrate Judge Donald Wilkerson deferred deciding whether to set bond for Roman Otto Conaway, who remains jailed, until after the tests and assigned the man to have a federal public defender.

Federal agents arrested Conaway, 50, at his home early Wednesday in the St. Louis suburb of Fairview Heights, ending a seven-hour standoff that investigators say followed his threats to kill Obama as part of a plan to ignite a war between Muslims and Christians.

During the standoff, the FBI Special Agent Richard Box alleges in court papers, Conaway insisted that a bulky, meshy belt he wore and three storage containers on his property were laden with explosives.

Investigators say the belt turned out to carry only harmless material similar to children’s molding clay made to look like high-grade explosives, with wires attached to a curling iron Conaway claimed was a triggering device. Only water was found in the storage drums.

In court Thursday, Conaway hung his head and slouched as he sat alone at the defense table before the eight-minute hearing started. When later questioned by Wilkerson, the tall, lanky man with a mustache and mullet — shackled at the waist and ankles — leaned on a podium and politely answered, telling the judge he was a married grandfather with three adult children and a 10th-grade education.

Charged with making a threat against the president and making false threats to detonate an explosive device, Conaway was scheduled for an Oct. 7 preliminary hearing. But Steven Weinhoeft, a federal prosecutor, said the U.S. government would seek an indictment that would make the preliminary hearing unnecessary.

Conaway’s wife has told media outlets that she and her husband raised their three grandchildren — ages 7 and 2 years, and 8 months — for several years before the children’s father recently regained custody, frustrating Conaway. On Tuesday, Conaway’s daughter told KMOV-TV, she got a two-year protection order against her father after he threatened to kill her.

In the criminal complaint, Box alleged that on Tuesday afternoon, someone at a St. Louis-area mosque told the FBI a caller identifying himself as “Roman” threatened to burn a copy of the Quran and videotape it for distribution to three television stations. Searches of Conaway’s house later found a new Quran on a barbecue grill above sticks and twigs, next to a gasoline can and matches, Box wrote.

The caller also pledged to “start a war between Christians and Muslims,” ”kill President Obama and other government officials to start a war,” end the military conflict in Afghanistan and ensure North Korean leader Kim Jong Il would “have some pain and cry,” Box wrote.

“I want to start an apocalypse,” Box said the caller proclaimed.

Federal agents notified by the mosque about the threats traced the number on the mosque’s caller ID to Conaway’s home, where he emerged with the bulky belt he told agents were packed with explosives, according to Box.

Warning that he had Army experience with explosives, Conaway threatened to commit suicide and blow up the neighborhood as well as the agents negotiating with him, Box wrote. The neighborhood was evacuated.

The man’s wife and son stayed with the unarmed Conaway but were not held against their will, FBI Special Agent Stu McArthur said. Shortly after he released the two, authorities honored their pledge to take him to a mental hospital rather than jail, Box wrote.

Conaway admitted to investigators that he made various statements alleged by the person at the mosque, though he denied threatening Obama, Box wrote. The agent also said Conaway confessed to wanting to burn the Quran “to incite conflict with Muslims.”

Conaway cast himself as “anti-government” and, just hours before he called the mosque, was barred by a judge from having contact with his grandchildren, Box wrote.

“I humbly apologize for my actions,” Box quoted Conaway as saying.

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