TULSA, Okla. (AP) — An Illinois man charged with plotting to firebomb dozens of churches in northeastern Oklahoma with Molotov cocktails will be tried in federal — not state — court, authorities announced Wednesday.
A federal grand jury indictment unsealed Wednesday charges 24-year-old Gregory Arthur Weiler II of Elk Grove Village, Ill., with one count of possessing an unregistered, destructive device — a crime punishable by up to 10 years in prison and up to a $250,000 fine, said Joseph F. Wilson, the criminal chief for the U.S. attorney's office in the northern district of Oklahoma.
State charges against Weiler were dropped Wednesday after he was taken into federal custody, Ottawa County District Attorney Eddie Wyant said.
Weiler had been jailed in Miami, Okla., since October, when authorities arrested and charged him with threatening to use an explosive or incendiary device and violating Oklahoma's anti-terrorism law. Investigators say Weiler had instructions for making Molotov cocktails, a list of 48 churches and a written outline of a plan to bomb churches.
Authorities were tipped to the alleged plot after a maintenance man at the motel where Weiler was staying noticed a green duffel bag in a trash bin outside the building and found bottles with cloth wicks attached with duct tape inside. He also noticed an empty gas can in the bin.
Wilson said Weiler appeared in federal court Wednesday and pleaded not guilty through a federal public defender. Wilson said the court will issue an order scheduling future hearings.
A message left with the federal public defender assigned to represent Weiler was not returned late Wednesday.
Family members of Weiler have said he has struggled with mental illness and may have stopped taking his medication before his arrest.
Joanne Meyers, Weiler's aunt, said Wednesday she feared for her nephew's mental state while he awaited his next court appearance. Tulsa County Jail records indicate Weiler is being detained there.
"He's very sick," she said in an interview with The Associated Press. "We're very concerned he even understands what's happening to him."
Weiler was found mentally competent to stand trial on the state charges last month.