A fundamentalist Baptist preacher arrested and indicted last week in an alleged conspiracy to bomb a San Diego abortion clinic will remain in jail pending his trial on the charges, a federal magistrate decided Thursday.
Granting a request by federal prosecutors, U.S. Magistrate Barry Ted Moskowitz ordered that the Rev. Dorman Owens, leader of the Bible Missionary Fellowship Church in Santee, be detained without bail at the downtown Metropolitan Correctional Center.
Moskowitz said his ruling was based on "clear and convincing" evidence that Owens has "attempted and will continue to attempt to obstruct justice" by urging other defendants in the case not to cooperate with prosecutors.
The magistrate said there were no conditions he could impose on Owens' release that would allow government officials to monitor whether the pastor was abiding by a court order that he refrain from contacting potential witnesses in the case.
'The Only Action'
"Confinement at the MCC appears to be the only action that will disable the defendant" and bar him from opportunities to further influence other defendants or parishioners who may be indicted, Moskowitz said.
Defense attorney Jan Ronis, who had suggested a laundry list of conditions that could accompany Owens' release on bail, called the ruling "unfortunate" and "disappointing" and said he planned to appeal the decision today.
"Obviously, we don't agree with it and will exercise our right to another hearing in federal court," Ronis said.
Assistant U.S. Atty. Larry A. Burns said he was "pleased the court accepted our legal position" but felt no "elation."
"I feel sorry for Mr. Owens. I feel bad about the predicament he's in," Burns said. "And I feel sorry for the members of his congregation that will be hurt by his absence."
Nonetheless, Burns said he "firmly believes" the pastor would repeat an earlier attempt to allegedly persuade a defendant to lie in an effort to protect fellow church members.
"He did it before and that's the best evidence we have that he will do it again," Burns said.
Congregation members and Owens' relatives, some of whom bowed their heads as the judge announced his decision Thursday, marched from the courthouse with little comment after the hearing. The pastor's son, Rev. Paul Owens, who has assumed leadership of the 400-member congregation, said he was "disappointed but not shocked" that his father's release had been denied.
"I'll agree with what the attorney said, and that is, my father walked right into a baited trap," Owens said, referring to conversations between his father and another defendant that were tape recorded by the government.
Dorman Owens, 54, and six members of the Bible Missionary Fellowship were arrested a week ago and charged with conspiring to bomb the Family Planning Associates Medical Group on Alvarado Road in July. The church, which was founded in 1971, has a history of picketing family-planning clinics and participating in anti-homosexual demonstrations, where their signs--including one saying, "Do You Have AIDS Yet?"--have drawn widespread attention and angry responses.
The defendants, the youngest of whom is 22, face six charges ranging from conspiracy to bomb and commit arson to manufacturing an explosive device. Each count carries a maximum penalty of 10 years in prison and a $250,000 fine. Although the charges relate only to the July episode, prosecutors allege that Owens and his followers also conspired to bomb two other organizations--a Planned Parenthood office and Womancare Clinic, a feminist health-care facility in Hillcrest.
According to the indictment, the seven defendants planned the bombing during a series of meetings in May and July of this year. Prosecutors say the defendants bought gunpowder, chemicals and other supplies to build the pipe bomb and gave them to Eric Svelmoe. Authorities alleged that Svelmoe, 32, tested "explosive devices" in several locations before placing the pipe bomb, taped to a gasoline can, on the doorstep of the Family Planning Associates Medical Group.
Svelmoe was arrested immediately after the bomb attempt, which was foiled when the fuse on the device burned out. He has been in custody at MCC ever since.
In a separate indictment, Owens, a square-jawed former truck driver from Fort Worth, Tex., who has lived in San Diego County since 1958, is accused of witness tampering for allegedly urging Svelmoe to lie to prosecutors to protect fellow church members.
Prosecutors say that two jail house conversations they tape recorded between Svelmoe and Owens on Nov. 2 and Nov. 3 reveal that the pastor attempted to persuade his parishioner to refuse to cooperate with the government and "make false statements" so as not to implicate two fellow congregation members in the plot. Svelmoe is now cooperating with the government. He has agreed to plead guilty to one count of attempted bombing and arson in return for the dropping of other charges against him.