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Prosecutors: Bomb-plot suspect too risky to release before trial

Updated: 2014-02-17T14:20:21Z

By Tim Potter

The Wichita Eagle

Arguing that Terry Lee Loewen tried to detonate a bomb “at the height of the pre-Christmas travel season” that would have killed or seriously injured hundreds of people at Wichita Mid-Continent Airport, federal prosecutors are asking that he remain in jail before his trial.

“The evidence is overwhelming that the defendant not only intended to commit the offense, but that he fully intended to inflict ‘maximum carnage + death’ in his attempt to detonate a device that would have killed or severely injured the hundreds of people who would have been in commercial aircraft and in the terminal area at Wichita Mid-Continent Airport on the morning of December 13, 2013,” prosecutors said in 16-page court filing late Thursday afternoon.

“These factors by themselves compel an order of detention pending trial,” it said.

Loewen’s public defenders couldn’t be reached for comment Thursday night.

The motion for detention came hours before a hearing Friday morning in federal court in Wichita to decide whether Loewen, a 58-year-old avionics technician who worked at a business near the airport, should remain in jail. His trial has initially been set for Feb. 18.

“The government recognizes the defendant has little criminal history and is a life-long member of the community with substantial ties to the Wichita area,” prosecutors said in the motion. “Nevertheless, the defendant spoke during the investigation about leaving the country after the attack in order to escape responsibility for his actions.”

The document also notes that Loewen could face life in prison if convicted, and it argues there is a high risk that he will flee if released.

The prosecutors contend that he “poses both a risk of flight and a danger to the community” and that there is no way to “reasonably assure the defendant’s appearance and the safety of the community” if he is not held in jail.

The motion says that following months of investigation by the FBI, authorities arrested Loewen this past Friday “as he attempted to drive a van filled with what he believed were high-explosives onto the tarmac at Wichita Mid-Continent Airport.”

Loewen thought he was working with a member of al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula, it said. The explosives were actually inert, and the co-conspirator was an undercover FBI employee, authorities said.

Holiday attack

The motion for detention reiterates a number of allegations already raised in a 21-page criminal complaint filed Friday in federal court.

For example, the motion cited an instance on Sept. 21 in which he allegedly told an FBI employee about U.S. military attack helicopters that used the airport and that he could have “walked over there, shot both pilots … slapped some C4 on both fuel trucks and set them off before anyone even called TSA.”

The new document also says Loewen met with a second undercover FBI employee he thought was a “brother” with al-Qaida. “During the meeting Loewen reiterated his desire to help FBI Employee 2 with a mission to blow up a plane with numerous people on board,” the document says.

They also allegedly discussed using a “vehicle-borne improvised deice (VBIED) to the terminal near a number of passenger planes. Loewen suggested that another individual could come in to the terminal with a suicide vest and detonate that to coincide with the VBIED outside.”

The idea was that, with the attack coming during the holidays, it would “cause the greatest impact physically and economically.”

On the early morning of this past Friday, Loewen completed the wiring for the device that was to be used, the document said. Authorities said they arrested him when he wasn’t able to use his company access badge from Hawker Beechcraft Services to get onto the airport tarmac shortly before 6 a.m. the morning of the planned attack.

‘Uphill climb’

According to “A Journalist’s Guide to the Federal Courts,” the “likelihood the defendant will flee and the danger they pose to the community are the only two factors a judge may consider in a detention hearing.”

Given terrorism-related charges against Loewen, it appears his public defenders would have an “uphill climb” in arguing that he shouldn’t have to remain in jail, said Wichita defense lawyer Laura Shaneyfelt, who often represents defendants in federal court.

Still, there can be standard defense arguments in such cases, Shaneyfelt said, including that a defendant has shown stability in the past by having a regular job, family in the local community and little or no prior criminal history. The argument becomes that the defendant is a “stable person in the community … who is going to show up and won’t hurt anybody in the meantime,” she said. Shaneyfelt is not connected to the case.

Loewen has lived and worked for decades in Wichita and has a wife and son in the community. He pleaded no contest in Wichita Municipal Court to a misdemeanor charge of carrying a knife in a checked bag at the airport in 2009.

On Wednesday, a federal grand jury indicted Loewen on three charges: attempting to use a weapon of mass destruction, attempting to destroy property with an explosive device, attempting “to provide material support … to Al Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula, a foreign terrorist organization.”

Loewen is currently being held without bond in a Sedgwick County Jail pod.

A defendant can waive a detention hearing and remain in jail. But there are reasons for the defense team not to waive the hearing, Shaneyfelt said.

For one thing, it gives a defense lawyer a chance to see the court’s early perspective on the case. For another, it gives the defense an opportunity to “find out something about your case,” she said.

Loewen’s detention hearing has been scheduled for 11 a.m. Friday before U.S. Magistrate Judge Karen Humphreys in federal court in downtown Wichita.

Reach Tim Potter at 316-268-6684 or tpotter@wichitaeagle.com.

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