Judge orders hearing for man in Mich. mosque plot

AP News
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Posted: May 17, 2011 4:56 PM
Judge orders hearing for man in Mich. mosque plot

A judge on Tuesday ordered a competency hearing for a mentally ill Vietnam War veteran accused of planning to attack a prominent Michigan mosque with fireworks.

Roger Stockham, a Muslim convert of Imperial Beach, Calif., was to stand trial in Michigan on terrorism and explosives charges for allegedly plotting to detonate powerful fireworks at the Islamic Center of America in Dearborn.

Wayne County Circuit Judge Bruce Morrow ordered a competency hearing for Stockham after learning that the 63-year-old sent a letter to the center last week.

Defense attorney Matthew Evans said Stockham's letter didn't threaten physical violence, but he declined to divulge its contents.

"It was just a rant _ it really didn't make sense," Evans said.

The hearing is set for July but could be held sooner.

Stockham was arrested Jan. 24 outside the mosque in the Detroit suburb, at the heart of the region's Arab-American community. He has said he only planned to spray-paint an anti-Iraq war message on the building, not to set off the fireworks police said they found in his car.

Stockham has several prior convictions and suffers from bipolar and post-traumatic stress disorders. He has spent much of the past three decades in prison or psychiatric hospitals.

He's charged in Michigan with making a false report or threat of terrorism and possessing explosives with unlawful intent. Evans said he faces at least three years in prison if convicted of both charges.

Police said he had 96 fireworks in his car, including M-80 firecrackers and smoke bombs.

Kassem Allie, the Islamic Center's executive administrator, declined to discuss the letter. But he said Stockham still poses a threat, regardless of his competency.

"We are convinced, based on what we understand his history is, that either way public safety should be the first consideration," Allie said.

Jeriel Heard, the county's director of jails, said he's not aware of the letter, but his officers are trained to look for letters that include specific threats to a person or institution. Officers typically do not intercept letters unless they include such threats.

Stockham told The Associated Press during a jailhouse interview last month that he is taking medication for bipolar disorder. He said that despite being locked up, he feels "better than I've been since the war."

Evans earlier had argued on behalf of Stockham's mental competency, saying that he was eccentric but not insane. Evans said the news of the letter surprised him and has forced him to reconsider how to defend his client and handle the case.

"I went out on a limb here. Now I've got to start making sure the branch is solid," Evans said.