Mosque bomb plot hearing delayed after suspect rejects Muslim lawyer
Dearborn— Charges against decorated Vietnam War veteran Roger Stockham for his alleged plot to set off explosives outside the area’s largest mosque were delayed today by a controversy over a mental competency test and Stockham’s rejection of his court-appointed attorney, a Muslim.
Dearborn’s 19th District Judge Mark Somers set next Friday for continuation of a probable cause hearing to determine if Stockham should be bound over for trial in Wayne County Circuit Court on charges of possession of illegal explosives and making a terrorist threat. The felony terrorism charge carries a sentence of up to 20 years. He has been held in the Wayne County Jail in lieu of $500,000 bond.
The 63-year-old California resident was arrested Jan. 24 after Dearborn police got a tip from Detroit police about a man in a bar threatening to blow up a mosque. Dearborn police say they found Stockham and his car parked outside the Islamic Center of America.
The car’s trunk was loaded with powerful fireworks, police said. The 70,000-square-foot religious complex, which features a 150-foot-tall dome and 10-story minarets, is among the largest in the nation.
Stockham this morning asked for a new lawyer when brought under armed guard to court for a preliminary examination of the evidence against him. Stockham objected to the man originally appointed to represent him by the court because he said attorney Mark Haidar of Northville is a member of the Shiite sect of Muslims — a claim not confirmed by other attorneys.
“I reject Mr. Haidar’s appointment as counsel. He is a Shiite,” Stockham said in court wearing a green jail inmate’s uniform and handcuffs. “He is a patron of the mosque.”
The judge appointed another lawyer, Matthew Evans of Livonia, and originally consented to a request for a competency examination. The mental fitness tests might have taken a month or more to determine if Stockham could understand the court proceedings against him and assist his lawyer in his defense. But Evans said he met with Stockham in the court’s lockup, and determined he was of sound mind.
“I had extensive conversation with Mr. Stockham. He fully understands what is going on today,” Matthews told the judge. “He was able to give me a detailed description of what occurred.”
Matthews withdrew the prior defense request for a competency examination and then asked the judge for a week to prepare for the probable cause hearing.
Stockham had told the judge today that he spoke briefly with his original appointed lawyer, Haidar, while in jail and found him “to be in quite a hurry and inappropriate.”
Attorney Jeffrey Schwartz stood in for Haidar in court this morning and made the request for a competency exam. Schwartz said Haidar is out of town on vacation, and he was taken by surprise by Stockham’s comments about Haidar. Schwartz said Haidar is a friend, a good lawyer and a Muslim. Schwartz said he is uncertain if Haidar is a Shiite.
Wayne County Assistant Prosecutor Khalid Najar explained that in recognizing Stockham has a history of mental illness, he originally agreed to the defense request for a competency examination because it’s “not about whether he is guilty or not; it’s whether he can understand the proceedings. This looks only at his competency to understand. Those other mental health issues will be dealt with later.”
Stockham previously served time in federal prison for threatening to kill President George W. Bush and bomb a Vermont veterans’ clinic. He pleaded guilty by reason of insanity. Court records indicate Stockham suffered from bipolar disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder and personality disorder with anti-social features.
Stockham was ordered released in 2005 after the warden of the U.S. Medical Center for Federal Prisoners in Springfield, Miss., certified the prisoner had recovered from his mental disease and that his conditioned release under a regiment of treatments would not create a risk of bodily injury or harm to others.
Authorities say the trunk of Stockham’s car was loaded with high-level fireworks that are too powerful to possess in Michigan without a license. About 500 people were attending a funeral inside the facility when police say they located Stockham.
Najar said today that he has not determined whether the fireworks allegedly found in Stockham’s car had the power to damage the mosque or injure the occupants. He said the charges are aimed at illegal possession of the fireworks and his intention to harm others.
“The biggest issue is intent,” Najar said about what he intends to show in the hearing next week. “Did he mean to harm someone?”