'Anarchist' accused in Cleveland bridge bomb plot goes on trial

Reuters News
Posted: Jun 11, 2013 6:45 AM
'Anarchist' accused in Cleveland bridge bomb plot goes on trial

By Kim Palmer

AKRON, Ohio (Reuters) - Opening statements begin Tuesday in the trial of Joshua Stafford, a self-described anarchist accused of plotting to blow up a four-lane highway bridge near Cleveland. The plot failed.

Stafford, 24, is the only one of five defendants to go on trial in the alleged plot to destroy the bridge, which is located 30 miles south of Cleveland and runs through Cuyahoga Valley National Park.

The four other defendants charged in the case pleaded guilty and received sentences ranging from six years to more than 10 years in prison, along with lifetime probation.

Despite a history of severe mental problems, Stafford has opted to represent himself and plans to testify on his own behalf. A public defender will be in the courtroom to assist him.

All five men were arrested after they left two tool boxes at the base of the bridge that contained inert C-4 explosives bought from an undercover FBI agent, then drove to a restaurant and tried to set off the fake bomb using a cellphone.

The FBI has said the public was never in danger and the men had no ties to foreign militant groups. The investigation into the group began in October 2011 when an informant met the men at an anti-Wall Street Occupy Cleveland rally.

Sandra McPherson, a forensic psychologist hired by the defense said she had diagnosed Stafford as having serious mental health issues including bi-polar disorder, attention deficit disorder and post-traumatic stress syndrome from childhood physical abuse.

But in April, McPherson said Stafford was rational and nothing barred him from participating in his own defense.

Since his incarceration last year, Stafford has attempted suicide twice and escaped his handcuffs and used them to cut himself, McPherson said.

Stafford, who has been charged with conspiracy to use weapons of mass destruction among other charges, faces a maximum of life in prison if convicted.

At a hearing after jury selection Monday, Stafford unsuccessfully attempted to have thrown out as evidence a video made the night he was accused of planting the fake explosives. The video, taken by the FBI, appears to show the defendants placing the tool boxes at the base of the bridge.

When asked by U.S. District Judge David D. Dowd, Jr. if he had any more questions, Stafford said, "Since I don't remember the question, there are no further questions."

(Reporting by Kim Palmer; Editing by Mary Wisniewski and Leslie Gevirtz)