Judge: Ohio bomb plot suspect is fit for trial

AP News
Posted: Apr 15, 2013 3:26 PM

AKRON, Ohio (AP) — The last of five bridge bomb-plotting suspects is mentally competent to stand trial, a judge ruled Monday after hearing testimony on the man's two-decade history of mental health issues.

U.S. District Court Judge David Dowd ruled that 23-year-old Joshua Stafford of Cleveland is able to assist in his defense. The judge set a Thursday hearing on trial arrangements.

The judge ruled after hearing from psychologists who said Stafford is suicidal, depressed and wary of a dangerous world but able to assist in his defense.

No bomb went off and no one was injured in the plot last year in which the intended target was a highway bridge over the Cuyahoga Valley National Park between Cleveland and Akron.

The other four defendants have pleaded guilty and landed prison terms of six to 11 years.

While fit to stand trial, Stafford "doesn't cope very well," forensic psychologist Sandra McPherson testified as Stafford's supporters watched from the public gallery. Stafford glanced at them without emotion.

"He tends to make rather poor decisions," McPherson testified. She said Stafford has a preoccupation with death and had attempted suicide twice since she met him last year.

Her testimony and accompanying report said Stafford, who appeared in court in an orange jumpsuit with a goatee and curly hair down to his should blades, has average intelligence, can organize his thoughts but sometimes is out of touch with reality, possibly as a result of childhood physical abuse.

Still, Stafford doesn't suffer from a severe psychosis, McPherson said. "He does believe the world is too dangerous," she said.

A psychologist who evaluated Stafford at a federal prison facility, Chad Tillbrook, said Stafford presented a mixed picture — sometimes withdrawn and somber, but able to focus and ask to talk to his defense attorney.

Tillbrook said Stafford's mental health issues date to age 4 and are treatable.

His stay at the prison facility last year included several disciplinary incidents when he defied orders from guards. In December, he removed his handcuffs and cut himself when he was about to be transferred, Tillbrook said.

At one point, Stafford mentioned that he occasionally heard voices but hadn't reported any in a while, Tillbrook said.

Dowd asked for copies of the reports for sentencing use if Stafford is convicted or pleads guilty.

The five suspects were arrested last April and accused of trying to detonate what was actually a fake explosive provided by a paid FBI informant.

The government described them as self-proclaimed anarchists who acted out of anger against corporate America and the government. But the defense called the investigation a case of entrapment, with the FBI informant guiding the way.

FBI agent Brian Taylor testified that one of the suspects told him the group targeted the bridge in the national park to minimize the impact of the explosion and avoid casualties.

The five had been active with the Occupy Cleveland group. Organizers of the movement sought to distance the group from the defendants.