ATLANTA — The U.S. citizen who has emerged as a suspect in the bombing of a van belonging to Navy Capt. Will Rogers III has told The Times that, although he is being closely interrogated by federal law enforcement officials, he is not responsible for the March 10 bombing that nearly killed Rogers' wife.
"I didn't do it, and I don't know who did it," said H. George Marxmiller, a former Navy flier and a commercial pilot for Eastern Airlines who now lives in Lake Oconee, Ga.
"But they suspect I know who did it. (Yet) to think I would do something like this is utter nonsense. It's so out of character. It doesn't compute."
Marxmiller, who said he is cooperating fully with the investigation, said his name surfaced in the case after he contacted the FBI with allegations against Rogers, the former skipper of the Vincennes. The Times has been unable to substantiate those allegations.
No Contact Since
In separate interviews, Marxmiller and Rogers said they had met once, several years ago, and that they have had no contact since.
"I dimly remember the guy," Rogers said of Marxmiller. "I have no idea why he would be involved in this thing. And I have no other comment."
Rogers' wife, Sharon, narrowly escaped injury when the family van she was driving exploded at a busy La Jolla intersection.
The FBI assumed jurisdiction over the case, primarily because officials believed the pipe-bombing was an act of retribution for Capt. Rogers' mistaken order in July, 1988, to shoot down a civilian Iranian airliner over the Persian Gulf. Rogers, who commanded the guided missile cruiser Vincennes, was later exonerated in the shooting, which claimed 290 lives.
Federal investigators from the start operated on the assumption that the van bombing was an act of international terrorism on U.S. soil. However, that thinking veered in a new direction in September, and Marxmiller, 48, emerged as a suspect.
Multiple sources have confirmed that Marxmiller is the leading suspect. But Tom Hughes, special agent in charge of the FBI in San Diego, has refused to comment on the status of the investigation.
Pored Over His Life
In a four-hour interview in an Atlanta suburb Sunday, Marxmiller detailed the extent to which federal investigators have pored over his life and attempted to determine whether he is responsible for the bombing.
He said he took a polygraph test in the summer and was asked whether he was involved in the bombing. He said the results were inconclusive. In early September, he said, he submitted to a second lie-detector test.
In that second examination, he said, he believes he passed the first of two key questions when he said he did not attach the bomb to the van.
But he said he apparently failed the second key question of whether he had planned the bombing or knew who placed the bomb under the van. "That's what triggered all this stuff," he said of the FBI's keen interest in him.
In addition, the FBI has asked for his fingerprints and a photograph, and has submitted Marxmiller and a brother to lengthy interview sessions about their whereabouts leading up to and following the bombing of the van.
The federal grand jury in San Diego on Sept. 26 issued a subpoena asking Marxmiller to submit two blood samples, in what federal sources said is an attempt to compare his blood type with that established from saliva taken from cigarette butts found outside the Rogers home.
Marxmiller smokes menthol cigarettes, and sources have said menthol cigarette butts were found near the home.
A Difficult Period
Marxmiller said he has been going through a difficult period, including a pending divorce and his decision to honor a March 4 strike at Eastern Airlines.
Capt. Rogers' name is included among 3 dozen people listed in court papers as potential witnesses on behalf of Marxmiller's wife, Rebecca, who is suing her husband for divorce in Dekalb County, Ga.
Neither George Marxmiller nor Rogers had any explanation why Rogers' name was listed as a witness. Through her attorney, Rebecca Marxmiller declined to comment about the divorce proceedings.
"My inclusion on such a document makes no sense," Rogers said Tuesday, reiterating that he did not want to comment on the investigation.
Marxmiller said: "The guy couldn't prove anything (in the divorce case). He's met me for four hours. The guy doesn't know me from Adam."
Marxmiller adamantly denied having any personal vendetta against Capt. Rogers or any desire to harm him or his family.
"I don't have anything against the guy," Marxmiller said.
Checking His Alibi
Nevertheless, the FBI is checking his alibi, he said.
Marxmiller said he attended a high school basketball game in Atlanta on March 9. He also produced a personal check carrying his signature that was canceled at an Atlanta bank that day.
Ron Sanders, 48, an Eastern Airlines pilot who lives in Lithonia, Ga., told The Times that he went to the basketball game with Marxmiller and Marxmiller's son.