Gov't Drops Presidential Threat Charge Vs Army Vet

October 6, 2010 - 2:01 PM

St. Louis (AP) - The U.S. government has abandoned charges alleging a jobless Army veteran threatened President Barack Obama, pressing ahead instead with an indictment accusing him of two felonies linked to a bogus bomb he wore during a standoff outside his southwestern Illinois home.

Federal prosecutors initially charged Roman Otto Conaway with making a threat against the president during a Sept. 21 telephone call to a St. Louis-area mosque in the hours before the seven-hour siege at his home.

Federal agents said he also pledged to "start an apocalypse" and ignite a war between Christians and Muslims.

But a federal indictment handed down Tuesday, which replaces last month's criminal complaint, accuses Conaway of making a false threat to detonate an explosive device and a related count of influencing a federal agent by threat.

Randy Massey, a spokesman for southern Illinois' U.S. Attorney's Office, declined on Wednesday to publicly discuss why prosecutors no longer were pursuing the Obama-related charge. In court papers, federal investigators say Conaway acknowledged calling the mosque but had denied threatening the president.

Conaway's federal public defender, Phillip Kavanaugh III, did not immediately return a call seeking comment.

Conaway, 50, remains jailed. A federal judge has ordered him to undergo mental competency testing to determine what if any bond should be set.

No court date has been scheduled.

During the standoff, FBI Special Agent Richard Box has alleged in court papers, Conaway - a tall, lanky man with a mustache and mullet - insisted that a bulky, meshy belt he wore and three storage containers on his property in the St. Louis suburb of Fairview Heights, Ill., were laden with explosives.

Investigators say the belt turned out to be carrying harmless material similar to children's molding clay with wires attached to a curling iron Conaway claimed was a triggering device. Only water was found in the storage drums.

Conaway's wife has said she and her husband raised their three grandchildren - ages 7 and 2 years, and 8 months - for several years before the children's father recently regained custody, frustrating Conaway.

In the criminal complaint, Box alleged that on Sept. 21, someone at the mosque told the FBI a caller identifying himself as "Roman" threatened to burn a copy of the Quran and videotape it for distribution to television stations. Searches of Conaway's house later found a new Quran on a barbecue grill above sticks and twigs, next to a gasoline can and matches, Box wrote.

The caller also pledged to "start a war between Christians and Muslims," "kill President Obama and other government officials to start a war," end the military conflict in Afghanistan and ensure North Korean leader Kim Jong Il would "have some pain and cry," Box wrote.

"I want to start an apocalypse," Box said the caller proclaimed.

Federal agents notified by the mosque about the threats traced the number to Conaway's home, from where he emerged wearing his fake explosives belt, according to Box.

Warning that he had Army experience with explosives, Conaway threatened to commit suicide and blow up the neighborhood as well as the agents negotiating with him, Box wrote. The neighborhood was evacuated.

Conaway later told investigators the he considered himself "anti-government" and, just hours before he called the mosque, was barred by a judge from having contact with his grandchildren, Box wrote.

"I humbly apologize for my actions," Box quoted Conaway as saying.

Conaway faces up to 10 years in prison and $250,000 in fines if convicted of the indictment count alleging he threatened a federal agent during the standoff. The felony involving the bogus bomb is punishable by up to five years behind bars and $250,000 in fines.