U.S. News

Judge refuses to block "bomb house" burning

SAN DIEGO (Reuters) - A federal judge on Wednesday denied a request by lawyers for “bomb house” suspect George Jakubec to delay the planned incineration of the rented home he allegedly packed with explosives and bomb-making materials.

The home rented by accused bomb maker George Djura Jakubec is surrounded by a fireproof white wall in Escondido, California December 8, 2010. REUTERS/Mike Blake

His attorneys filed an emergency motion in U.S. District Court in San Diego late Tuesday saying that Thursday’s planned burning of the house -- deemed too dangerous to clear out and process as a crime scene -- is not only unsafe but will destroy evidence needed to defend Jakubec.

“Papers, journals, and other items in the house may help Mr. Jakubec prove his intent or his mental state,” the motion states. “The alleged explosives in the home may themselves prove to be harmless, lawfully owned, or in some other way less inculpatory than the charges suggest.”

But an FBI bomb technician James Verdi testified at Wednesday’s hour long court hearing that explosive chemicals detected throughout the cluttered house were too volatile to be safely removed.

One type of chemical, called HMTD, is so unstable that it can be set off by “someone stepping on it,” Verdi said.

He said agents had found evidence of past explosions in the house, including a sliding glass door and windows that had been blown out and boarded up and buckled, soot-covered walls.

In the end, U.S. Magistrate Judge Larry Burns said he saw no reason to delay the planned incineration.

“I see substantial detriment,” he said, adding “If I knew there was a house with bombs and volatile chemicals near my house, I wouldn’t sleep at night.”

Jakubec, 54, was arrested last month after authorities found his house packed from floor to ceiling with high explosives, bomb-making materials, handmade grenades and guns mixed in with piles of paper and other debris.

Some explosives were initially removed and safely detonated on the property.

But the San Diego County Sheriff’s Department later decided to burn down the house rather than risk setting off explosives by accident in an attempt to search and clean the dwelling.

Jakubec, an unemployed computer software engineer, was charged last week in an eight-count federal indictment with three bank robberies and one attempted bank holdup during the past two years.

He also is accused of one count of possessing explosive devices, one count of illegal manufacture of explosives and two counts of brandishing a firearm during a robbery.

The Serbian-born Jakubec, who is being held in federal detention without bond, pleaded not guilty on Monday to each of the eight charges, which carry a maximum possible penalty of 20 years in prison.

In the meantime, authorities went ahead with preparations to burn down the single-story, wood-frame house in Escondido, a town 25 miles north of San Diego, where Jakubec and his wife lived with their small pet dog for four years. Jakubec’s wife and their dog, Spike, are now staying with undisclosed family.

Evacuation orders were issued for residents of some 60 homes nearby in the middle-class neighborhood, and air pollution monitors were set up to collect data on toxins released during the burn.

The California Highway Patrol also plans to shut down a portion of an interstate that runs within 250 feet of the house. County crews have been clearing brush and cutting down trees in the quiet area.

California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger recently issued a emergency declaration freeing the state of liability for destroying the house, owned by a San Francisco Bay-area woman, Michele Holt, according to county property records.

The house was appraised at $517,000 in January 2006, when Holt purchased it. She has not responded to media requests for comment. Neighboring houses of a similar size are now selling for around $260,000, according to the assessor’s records.

The house came under scrutiny on November 18 when a gardener working on the premises was injured by an explosion there.

Writing by Steve Gorman; Editing by Greg McCune