Federal agents investigating the attempted bomb attack on a Martin Luther King Jr. Day parade in Spokane have found a pile of new evidence abandoned in a remote area near the U.S.-Canadian border.
Forensic comparison tests are now being conducted at the FBI lab on 75 items to see if they are tied to a “weapon of mass destruction” case brought last month against Kevin William Harpham, a 36-year-old unemployed ex-soldier.
Seizure of the 75 items on March 25 was first publicly mentioned Thursday at a U.S. District Court hearing in Spokane but federal prosecutors gave no particulars other than to say a search warrant wasn’t required.
“The items were seized in connection with the investigation,’’ Assistant U.S. Attorney Joseph H. Harrington told Senior U.S. District Court Judge Justin Quackenbush, who asked when FBI reports would be provided to the defendant’s attorneys.
Hatewatch has subsequently learned a search warrant wasn’t needed because the items were left as abandoned property in a remote area where firearms or homemade explosives could have been tested or assembled. The location was not far from the suspect’s home, sources said.
It’s not clear whether it was a tip or other investigative leads that led FBI agents to the significant evidence seizure two weeks after Harpham’s arrest. A specially assembled team of FBI agents, dressed and equipped as county road workers, made the arrest as the suspect drove away from his rural home near Addy, Wash., in Stevens County in the northeastern corner of Washington.
Harpham, who has past ties to the neo-Nazi National Alliance, faces federal charges accusing him of building and planting the backpack bomb in a bid to kill or injure marchers in a MLK “Unity Day” parade on Jan. 17 in Spokane.
It now appears he acted as a “lone wolf,” and additional arrests are unlikely.
The improvised explosive device – reportedly designed to be triggered with a remote car starter -- was spotted and defused by a bomb squad as the parade was rerouted.
Since Harpham’s arrest on March 9, FBI agents assigned to a Joint Terrorism Task Force appear to have been scrambling to put together missing pieces.
To date, 2,014 pages of investigative files have been turned over to the defense, Harrington told the court, and another 1,500 pages should be released next week, while the FBI lab continues processing the newest potential evidence, generating more reports.
“This is and has been an ongoing investigation,’’ the prosecutor told the court in arguing to keep a court affidavit, detailing the probable cause for Harpham’s arrest, from public inspection.
Besides searching Harpham’s small and isolated home, about 55 miles north of Spokane, FBI agents also searched his father’s home and property, located a few miles away near the community of Kettle Falls.
What they found in those searches is detailed in court documents that remain sealed from public inspection.
Meanwhile, as The Seattle Times first reported last month, the U.S. Department of Justice is now considering whether to ask a grand jury to bring an additional civil rights hate-crime enhancement charge against Harpham. That could occur as early as later this month, possibly with a formal statement from the Attorney General Eric Holder or a senior member of his staff.
If convicted, the penalty enhancement – based on the notion that the crime was motivated by bias -- would require a significantly longer prison sentence under federal sentencing guidelines.
The federal Hate Crimes Sentencing Enhancement Act of 1994 defines a hate crime as one in which “the defendant intentionally selects a victim … because of the actual or perceived race, color, religion, national origin, ethnicity, gender, disability, or sexual orientation.”
The potential of adding the civil rights enhancement to the indictment against Harpham may be the reason the Justice Department is keeping tight secrecy, hoping grand jury members don’t read or watch media accounts.
“At this point, there is a danger that [public] disclosure of the [documents] could jeopardize the ongoing investigation or hamper the ability of the grand jury to determine the appropriate charges,” the U.S. Attorney’s Office said in court filings.
If a new superseding indictment is returned, that would delay the scheduled May 31 trial for Harpham, who remains in jail without bond.
The suspect seemed to smile in court Thursday when the judge said he wasn’t about to unseal an FBI agent’s sworn arrest affidavit because it likely “contains hearsay” that could generate additional media coverage and jeopardize Harpham’s right to a fair trial.
Although key documents in the case remain sealed after the court hearing, it is widely believed that forensic evidence – fingerprints and DNA traces -- found on the nearly-intact bomb led FBI agents to Harpham. He served in a U.S. Army artillery unit in 1996 and 1997, and his fingerprints most likely are in a Department of Defense database.
Without mentioning specific evidence, Federal Defender Roger Peven told the court during Thursday’s hearing that the defense team likely will want its own scientific tests done when the FBI finishes its work.