SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — A plea deal for a former TV pitchman in Utah accused of kicking a barn owl in flight while riding a motorized paraglider fell through Thursday when he refused to admit to a crime he said makes him look like an evil, horrible person.
Dell "Super Dell" Schanze — known in Utah for his shrill, hyperactive TV commercials for his Totally Awesome Computers retail chain that has since closed — once again turned a court hearing into a spectacle. It started when he arrived about five minutes late and entered court wearing dark sunglasses, a tight-fitting black turtleneck, tennis shoes and a fanny pack.
When U.S. District Judge Dee Benson began reading through the plea deal, Schanze answered "yes sir" to the first few questions but then balked after Benson asked him if it was true that he knowingly harassed the owl in February or March of 2011.
"No sir," Schanze said.
"I'm going to go out on a limb here, what part isn't true?" Benson said.
"Pretty much all of it, but I'm willing to plea to it if we can finish this today," Schanze said.
The judge explained to Schanze that he couldn't accept a plea deal without an admission to the facts. Schanze's attorney, Kent Hart, spoke with him several times and the judge at one point brought both attorneys to the bench.
But Schanze never budged, refusing to accept the facts.
"Do you not see the conundrum?" Schanze told the judge. "I'm not an evil, horrible guy and I'm not going to lie."
Benson told Schanze nobody was accusing him of being evil and reminded him that nobody was forcing him to accept the deal.
"You don't have to and believe me, I don't care," Benson said. "This is all up to you."
When Schanze refused again, Benson ended the hearing and ordered the case to trial, set to begin on April 20.
Schanze has pleaded not guilty to the misdemeanor charge of knowingly using an aircraft to harass wildlife and pursuing a migratory bird. He faces a maximum of one year in jail and a $100,000 fine, the judge said.
The charges, filed in October, came after a federal investigation into a video that surfaced online last year and appeared to show a paraglider near Utah Lake kicking a soaring owl and boasting about it.
The U.S. Attorney's Office declined comment after the hearing.
Schanze and his attorney also declined comment outside court, but Schanze proceeded to go into a rant as he left the court about the satanic media that tells lies.
Thursday was not the first time Schanze has made a sideshow out of a court hearing. At his initial appearance in December, he was handcuffed and briefly held in contempt after being disruptive and combative with a federal judge.
Schanze closed the retail computer stores in 2006 amid sinking sales and legal troubles. He unsuccessfully ran for political office, including a Libertarian bid for governor.
Schanze's paragliding has previously run afoul of the law. In 2006, he was charged with disorderly conduct after flying low near Interstate 15 at rush hour. He kissed the feet of a fan who paid his $300 fine in the case.
Five years later, Schanze was arrested in Oregon after allegedly jumping off the 125-foot-tall Astoria Column. He said outside the jail that the government was stifling his creativity.