Detroit: Man accused in mosque plot ready to go to trial; Attorney says speech was 'hyperbole'

By Jeff Karoub

Associated Press

DETROIT (AP) -- A mentally ill Vietnam War veteran set to stand trial on charges he planned to attack a prominent Michigan mosque with fireworks police say they found in his car is guilty only of "hyperbole," his attorney said Monday.

Defense attorney Matthew Evans said Roger Stockham wanted "his day in court," and the Detroit trial for the 63-year-old convert to Islam was scheduled to start Tuesday.

"His speech was hyperbole," Evans said of Stockham, arrested Jan. 24 outside Dearborn's Islamic Center of America after police received a tip. Police say he wore a ski mask and had a bagful of powerful fireworks, many of which are illegal in Michigan. But Stockham said he only planned to spray-paint a message on the mosque's exterior wall protesting the Iraq war.

"I think that you have to take these things seriously," Evans said. "But once (police) got there and understood what happened, they decided to make this a media event."

A message seeking comment was left Tuesday afternoon with the Wayne County prosecutor's office.

Stockham, who had been living in Imperial Beach, Calif., has pleaded not guilty to the charges of making a false report or threat of terrorism, and possessing explosives with an unlawful intent. Witnesses said hours before his January arrest, Stockham sipped Scotch at a bar near the mosque and bragged about how he was going to cause an explosion there.

Stockham has been involved in several violent incidents since returning from Vietnam after a stint as a commercial pilot in Indonesia. Stockham went to prison for planting a bomb at a Reno, Nev., airport in 1985. He tipped off the FBI, which disarmed it. And by then, he had already held a psychiatrist at gunpoint for several hours, kidnapped his own son, tried to hijack a plane, crashed a plane, and set fire to buildings.

In 2002 while living in Vermont, he was charged with threatening to kill the president and others. He pleaded not guilty by reason of insanity and was released three years later from a Missouri prison hospital.

Federal probation officials in Vermont have filed a petition seeking Stockham's eventual return, alleging he violated the terms of his 2005 release. But they declined to say which terms they believe he violated, and the document is sealed.

Evans said Stockham is "in essence supervised for life," and will likely return to federal custody.

"He'll probably go into a hospital for a period of time -- that's the best-case scenario," Evans said.

Stockham told The Associated Press during a jailhouse interview last month that he is taking medication for bipolar disorder and has been diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder. He said that despite being locked up, he feels "better than I've been since the war."

Published: Wed, May 18, 2011