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Judge Cites Danger of Violence : Bail Denied Preacher Charged in Bomb Plot

December 02, 1987|RICHARD A. SERRANO | Times Staff Writer

For the second time in less than a month, the Rev. Dorman Owens on Tuesday was ordered held in jail until his trial on a charge of conspiring to bomb an abortion clinic.

Upholding an earlier federal magistrate's ruling, U.S. District Judge Earl B. Gilliam determined that the pastor of the Bible Missionary Fellowship church represents a "danger of violent harm" and ordered that no bail amount be allowed for him.

The judge ruled that the fundamentalist Baptist preacher must remain in the downtown Metropolitan Correctional Center and only be allowed outside for escorted visits to his attorney's office.

Gilliam said he believed U.S. Magistrate Barry Ted Moskowitz's Nov. 12 no-bail order "was rather kind to Mr. Owens" because Moskowitz did not comment on whether Owens was involved in a violent crime.

Gilliam Gave Views

Then Gilliam gave his views of the case, much of which centers on Owens' visit to County Jail downtown to allegedly influence a member of his congregation not to cooperate with authorities.

"I'm somewhat impressed by the fact that Mr. Owens goes to the jail to talk to one of the parishioners in custody and in talking to him really kind of carried on what I would call persuasion of the missionary right there in jail with him," Gilliam said.

"That bothers this court because he's the leader and catalyst of this group. There was a bomb at the Alvarado hospital. The court would find there is a danger of violent harm."

The judge added:

"I'm satisfied that although he wants to appear as though he wants to follow the law, he plays it very close to the vest in that regard. And if he finds an opportunity, he'll go outside of it if it will accomplish his particular purpose.

"I think the weight of the evidence is very strong against him," the judge said.

Owens' attorney, Thomas Warwick, said after the hearing that he doubted he would seek further appeals for bail. "For the judge to say that he thinks he's a danger to society, that makes it much more difficult for me to prove he's qualified for bail," Warwick said.

However, Warwick did ask Gilliam to consider future requests for alternative custody for Owens, such as house arrest. The judge said he would listen to any suggestions.

"I'll leave it up to your ingenuity to come up with something appropriate," Gilliam said. "The problem is monitoring, governing and controlling."

Opposes Any Move

Assistant U.S. Atty. Larry A. Burns said after the hearing that he would oppose any attempts to move Owens out of MCC. "Our position is that anything else would not be sufficient," Burns said. "You have to monitor him all day."

Owens and six members of his church were arrested in November and charged with conspiring to bomb the Family Planning Associates Medical Group on Alvarado Road. A seventh church member, Eric Svelmoe, has been charged with manufacturing the bomb and placing it at the clinic. Police have said the bomb would have detonated had a candle placed next to the wick not blown out.

Owens was also charged with witness tampering for allegedly urging Svelmoe in a secretly recorded jail-house visit to lie to prosecutors in order to protect fellow church members. Svelmoe and Owens remain in custody, while the other church members have been released on bail.

Warwick has maintained that the government used Svelmoe to lure the Santee pastor to the jail to entrap him. But in Tuesday's hearing Burns offered into evidence an Oct. 13 letter that Owens wrote to Svelmoe, just before making the two visits to see him in the jail.

'Would Like to See You'

"I would like to see you, but have evaded trying because it might cause you problems," Owens wrote. "Please advise me."

The minister, who signed the letter "Your Brother Dorman," also told Svelmoe: "You know I am writing these things to help you in this distress. You are one among many across America who suffer at the hands of the humanists. We pray that your suffering will in some way help bring this nation back to righteousness, for unless something happens, in a few years we will all be where you are now."

Burns told the judge that Owens, if released on bail, could not be trusted to obey court orders not to contact or influence the other church members. Burns said Owens has in recent years attempted to circumvent other San Diego County Superior Court orders restricting his activities at various picketing marches in front of abortion clinics.

For instance, he showed Gilliam a photograph of Owens dressed in what resembled the uniform of a Mexican law enforcement official and carrying signs in Spanish outside a San Diego abortion clinic. Burns said Owens and his group were attempting to trick Mexican women into believing that if they entered the clinic, they would be turned over to authorities, arrested and deported.

But Warwick said Owens was advised by another attorney that it would not be a violation of court restraining orders to picket at the clinic wearing a uniform and carrying signs in Spanish.

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