DETROIT (AP) — A California man accused of threatening to blow up a popular Detroit-area mosque has had several violent, unpredictable run-ins with the law dating back to the 1970s, including one in which he kidnapped his son from a foster home and crashed a plane while trying to get away.
Roger Stockham, 63, twice has been committed for psychiatric treatment by the courts, and his attorney, Mark Haidar, told the Associated Press on Tuesday that after meeting with Mr. Stockham earlier in the day, he came away worried about his client’s mental state.
Mr. Stockham was arrested during a Jan. 24 traffic stop near the Islamic Center of America in Dearborn, which is one of the nation’s largest mosques and serves the area’s huge Arab community. Police kept quiet about Mr. Stockham’s arrest for a week after consulting with Islamic leaders, who were worried about possible copycat attempts.
Hours before his arrest, witnesses say, Mr. Stockham sipped Scotch at a nearby sports bar and bragged about how he was going to cause a big explosion. Police say that when they pulled him over, he was wearing a ski mask and had more than two dozen Class C fireworks in his car, including M-80s, which are illegal in Michigan.
Mr. Haidar said he hasn’t reviewed the evidence, but based on Mr. Stockham’s history of mental illness, he will request a competency evaluation for him during Friday’s scheduled preliminary examination in district court in Dearborn.
Police have not discussed why they believe Mr. Stockham may have targeted the mosque.
Joe Nahhas, a manager at the Detroit bar Mr. Stockham allegedly visited before his arrest, said Mr. Stockham claimed to have become a Muslim after returning from the Vietnam War, and said he recognized that Mr. Stockham could speak at least some Arabic. He also said Mr. Stockham claimed to be part of a group of Indonesian mujahedeen, or holy warriors.
The fireworks, as described by police, could not have destroyed a building, but they could have been used to wound or kill people, said John V. Goodpaster, an explosives expert and assistant professor at Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis.
Federal authorities said that was not the case in June 1985, when they said Mr Stockham planted a bomb in a Reno, Nev., airport garbage can, then called the Reno Gazette-Journal and the FBI to tell them about it. The airport was evacuated and the device was disarmed, but bomb experts said that it could have killed anyone in the vicinity had it exploded.
Mr. Stockham was convicted of one count each of attempting to damage a building used in interstate commerce and possessing an unregistered firearm, and was sentenced to 10 years in prison for each count, with the counts to run concurrently. It was not immediately clear when and under what terms Mr. Stockham was released.
Mr. Stockham’s first serious brush with the law occurred in 1977, when according to a 1985 report in the Los Angeles Times, he held a psychiatrist hostage in a Century City office building using two bombs and a pistol. After more than four hours, he released the psychiatrist unharmed and surrendered to police, the paper reported.
In August 1979, after undergoing treatment for mental illness, Mr. Stockham abducted his 9-year-old son from a foster home and took off in a rented Cessna airplane. Los Angeles sheriff’s deputies told the AP at the time that Mr. Stockham radioed the control tower and said he had a bomb, a gun and a boy and wanted to land his plane and transfer to a larger aircraft to leave the country.
He only touched down briefly at the airport and then took off. He crashed the plane about two miles away and was found hiding in nearby bushes with his son. Neither was injured, though subsequent AP reports said Mr. Stockham had a rifle.
A woman named Kathy called two local radio stations at the time, claiming to be Mr. Stockham’s wife, and said her husband was a Muslim and planned to take his son from a previous marriage to Iran after hijacking a plane. The woman said her husband was seeing a psychotherapist.