The unveiling of a monument to the late Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. in Washington, D.C., later this month and the trial of an alleged extremist accused of planting a bomb on the route of an MLK Day unity parade in Spokane, Wash., were set to coincide – until Friday.
Would fairness and justice – hallmarks promoted by the late civil rights leader – be served if the trial of Kevin William Harpham started the same week as the King was being honored nationally for his historic speech during the 1963 March on Washington? U.S. District Judge Justin Quackenbush wondered aloud in court on Friday.
This year’s weeklong 48th anniversary of the King speech will be capped on Sunday, Aug. 28, with the unveiling of the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. National Memorial at the National Mall. The MLK event will be televised nationally on networks such as CNN, TV One and B.E.T., and other major networks are expected to have reports through the week.
“Is it fair to commence a trial in this matter at this time?’’ the judge asked from the bench at a pretrial hearing, preparing for Harpham’s Aug. 22 trial in Spokane.
The federal judge questioned whether media attention of the MLK “I Have a Dream” speech anniversary would have an impact on jurors being selected to determine the guilt or innocence of Harpham. The 36-year-old unemployed former soldier and electrician is charged with attempted use of a weapon of mass destruction, possession of an unregistered destructive device and use of a firearm in relation to a crime of violence.
Harpham is only the third person to be charged by the Justice Department with a federal hate crime for allegedly violating provisions of the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act enacted in October 2009.
The judge earlier had privately raised the issue of the MLK memorial unveiling with Harpham’s federal defenders and Justice Department prosecutors, prompting the defense to file a motion formally asking for a delay in the trial. The public was unaware of that development because most documents in the Harpham case have been filed under seal.
After a court hearing Friday, the judge privately met with attorneys, then decided he would delay the start of Harpham’s trial until Sept. 12 – the day after the 10th anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist attacks. The judge confirmed the trial delay when he met briefly with a group of reporters who knocked on his chamber’s door after waiting in a courthouse hallway during his private meeting with attorneys.
In another matter in court, the judge granted a defense motion, suppressing any statements made by Harpham immediately after his arrest on March 9. The judge noted that the suspect demanded to know why he was being arrested but got no immediate answers after FBI Hostage Rescue Team agents – disguised as a county road crew – dropped a rear-end loader’s bucket on Harpham’s car as he left his rural residence in northeastern Washington.
Quackenbush said he was suppressing statements, without disclosing their contents, because the FBI had violated Harpham’s constitutional rights by not immediately reading him his Miranda rights, giving him a copy of the arrest warrant and immediately taking him before a judge. He sharply rebuked the FBI for waiting 2 ½ hours before reading Harpham his rights while agents outlined their evidence against him.
Two arresting agents previously told the court they adopted that strategy – hoping to befriend Harpham – based on advice from psychological experts who work for the FBI’s Behavioral Science Unit.
The judge commended Special Agent Joseph Cleary, one of the arresting agents, for “being brutally honest” with the court in providing the details and timeline of Harpham’s arrest.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Joseph Harrington said the arresting agents “acted in good faith” and did read Harpham his rights before beginning the “custodial interrogation” of the suspect. The prosecutor said Harpham was taken before a federal magistrate within the six-hour window required by law.
“Does the government pick and choose what rule of law to comply with?’’ the judge snapped at one point, interrupting the federal prosecutor as he attempted to explain the reason for the delay in reading Harpham his rights. Quackenbush said the U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that arresting officers “shall, not ‘may,’ immediately advise a suspect” of his or her constitutional rights and read the arrest warrant.
The federal prosecutor at that point conceded the issue, agreeing that any statements made by Harpham, prior to the reading of his constitutional rights, won’t be introduced at trial.
In a related development, the Justice Department has subpoenaed video shot by KREM-TV of Spokane showing Harpham marching in the January unity day parade, carrying what appears to be a camera. The man now accused of building and planting a backpack bomb on the parade route is seen in two separate shots – apparently moments before the device was spotted and rendered safe.