CHICAGO (AP) — A former letter carrier accused of sending dud pipe bombs and taunting letters signed “The Bishop” called himself to the witness stand at his trial Thursday, admitting he sent the devices but insisting they never would have gone off.
John Tomkins of Dubuque, Iowa, who is represented himself at the trial, began the sometimes bizarre spectacle of questioning himself Thursday by announcing that he was calling “defendant John Tomkins” to testify. He then walked to the witness stand and a legal adviser read aloud questions Tomkins had prepared.
Tomkins, 47, repeated what he said in his opening statement earlier this week: that he sent the threatening letters to investment advisers in a scheme to boost the value of his stocks. But he added he intentionally constructed fake bombs that would not explode.
At one point, he apologized for the letters: “I am terribly sorry about that.”
The legal adviser asked, “Are you offering excuses?” Tomkins responded flatly, “There is no excuse.”
Tomkins is accused of sending letters threatening to kill recipients, their families or neighbors unless they took steps to raise the prices of 3COM Corp. and Navarre Corp. stocks, of which he held investments. The letters, sent from 2005 to 2007, were signed “The Bishop.”
Packages included notes reading, “Bang! You're dead” and a message that declared that the only reason the receiver was still alive was because one wire was intentionally not attached.
Prosecutors say the bombs were real and would have exploded had all the wires been attached. The letters included a demand to act by a deadline or bombs that explode would follow. They ended with the words “Tick, tock” or “Time's up.”
Coatless and wearing a black tie, Tomkins spoke clearly and struck a deferential tone while on the stand Thursday. He kept looking to his left to make eye contact with jurors.
He walked jurors through how the devices were built, insisting he took pains to ensure they could not go off.
“Were any of these devices designed to explode?” the legal adviser asked.
“No, they were not,” Tomkins answered.
Calm, composed and well-spoken in answering his own questions, Tomkins began to make grammatical mistakes under a tough cross-examination.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Patrick Pope pressed Tomkins about his claim that he is a man who takes responsibility for his actions, noting he didn't sign his real name to the letters.
Flustered, Tomkins said he wasn't trying to evade responsibility now.
“I ain't trying to hide nuttin',” he said.
Tomkins repeatedly sought to make the point that none of the devices ever went off, answering one question from the prosecutor with his own question.
“Was anyone ever killed, harmed physically?” he asked. “No,” he answered.
Tomkins, who has been in custody since his arrest in 2007, is charged with mailing threatening communications, illegal possession of a destructive device and using a destructive device in connection with a crime of violence.
If Tomkins is convicted, a judge could impose a sentence of more than 200 years in prison.