- Associated Press - Wednesday, February 2, 2011

DETROIT | A California man accused of threatening to blow up a popular Detroit-area mosque has had several violent 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 escape.

Roger Stockham, 63, has been committed twice by courts for psychiatric treatment. His attorney, Mark Haidar, told the Associated Press that he came away worried about his client’s mental state after meeting with Stockham on Tuesday.

“He indicated he never meant to hurt anyone at any time and had no intention of blowing up any mosque at any time,” Mr. Haidar said of Stockham, who has been living in Imperial Beach, Calif.

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 Stockham’s arrest for a week after consulting with Islamic leaders who were worried about copycat attempts.

Hours before his arrest, witnesses said, Stockham sipped Scotch at a sports bar and bragged about how he was going to cause a big explosion. Police who pulled him over said 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 has not reviewed the evidence. Based on Stockham’s history of mental illness, the attorney said, he will request a competency evaluation during Friday’s scheduled preliminary examination in U.S. District Court in Dearborn.

Police have not discussed why they suspect Stockham may have targeted the Dearborn mosque. Joe Nahhas, a manager at the Detroit bar that police say Stockham visited before his arrest, said Stockham claimed to have become a Muslim after returning from the Vietnam War. He said he recognized that Stockham could speak at least some Arabic. He also said 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 specialist and assistant professor at Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis.

Federal authorities said that, in an earlier arrest, Stockham planted a bomb in an airport garbage can in Reno, Nev., in June 1985, then called the Reno Gazette-Journal and the FBI to tell them about it. Authorities evacuated the airport and disarmed the bomb, which they said was powerful enough to kill anyone nearby had it exploded.

Stockham was convicted of one count each of attempting to damage a building used in interstate commerce and possessing an unregistered firearm. He was sentenced to 10 years in prison for each count, with the prison terms to run concurrently. It was not immediately clear when and under what terms Stockham was released.

Stockham had his first serious brush with the law in Los Angeles in 1977, when he held a psychiatrist hostage in a Century City office building using two bombs and a pistol, according to a 1985 report in the Los Angeles Times. 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, 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 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 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 Stockham had a rifle.

A woman named Kathy, claiming to be Stockham’s wife, called two local radio stations at the time 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.

While Stockman was out on bail awaiting trial on charges that he abducted his son, prosecutors said, he set fire to several Union Oil Co. storage facilities in Lompoc, Calif. Stockham was convicted of kidnapping; but during his arson trial, he was found legally insane and sent to Patton State Hospital. He escaped in October 1981 and eluded capture for four months before surrendering.

A judge released him a year later, put him on probation for three years and ordered him to receive outpatient therapy at the state hospital.

In 2002, court documents in Vermont show, Stockham pleaded not guilty by reason of insanity to charges stemming from threats against President Bush and against officials at veterans facilities in that state.

The Burlington Free Press in Vermont reported that he called the newspaper twice in one day in October 2002 and said he was going to set off bombs in the neighborhood. He called again the next day and said he was “a local Muslim terrorist on a roll.”

He said doctors diagnosed post-traumatic stress disorder from his time in Vietnam and that he was taking medication for manic-depression. The same day, he was arrested on a federal warrant on charges of making the threats.

Stockham was released in 2005 from the U.S. Medical Center for Federal Prisoners on several conditions, including that he refrain from drinking alcohol and continue psychiatric treatment. The warden of the Springfield, Mo., facility said Stockham had recovered sufficiently enough from his mental illness that he would not pose a danger to the public if he adhered to the conditions of his release.

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