AKRON, Ohio (Reuters) - A self-described anarchist who acted as his own lawyer was convicted on Thursday of attempting to blow up a four-lane highway bridge near Cleveland in April 2012.
A jury in Akron federal court convicted Joshua Stafford, 24, of conspiracy to use a weapon of mass destruction and other charges and he now faces up to life in prison.
Four other defendants pleaded guilty last year and have received prison sentences of six years to more than 10 years each and lifetime probation for their plot to destroy a bridge that runs through Cuyahoga Valley National Park, 30 miles south of Cleveland.
All five men were arrested after they left at the base of the bridge two tool boxes containing inert explosives they had bought from an undercover federal agent. They then drove to a restaurant and tried to use a cellphone to set off the fake bomb.
The investigation into the group began in October 2011 when an informant met the men at an anti-Wall Street Occupy Cleveland rally. The Federal Bureau of Investigation has said the public was never in danger and the men had no ties to foreign militant groups.
Stafford took the stand on Thursday as the only witness for his defense. He admitted being at the bridge that day, but said he thought they were going to “tag” the bridge with paint and he knew nothing about any explosives.
He testified that he thought one of the other defendants was being sarcastic when he said the group planned to “bring down the bridge”. Stafford said he had met with the men to help move some boxes and thought the tool boxes contained cans of paint.
“All I really wanted to do was help my friends,” Stafford said.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Duncan Brown questioned Stafford’s assertion that he did not know about the plan, arguing, “He was not an unknowing, unwitting dupe.”
Stafford is due to be sentenced on September 11 before U.S. District Court Judge David D. Dowd Jr.
Editing by David Bailey, Toni Reinhold