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 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.
In interviews Sunday and Monday, Marxmiller and Rogers said that they met only 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 took jurisdiction in the case, primarily because officials believed the pipe bombing was an act of revenge for Capt. Rogers' order in July, 1988, to shoot down what turned out to be an Iranian airliner. All 290 people aboard the civilian aircraft were killed. Rogers, who commanded the guided missile cruiser Vincennes in the Persian Gulf, was exonerated on grounds that he had reason to believe his ship was under attack.
Federal investigators assumed at first that the van bombing could have been a terrorist act committed on U.S. soil. However, that thinking changed in September when Marxmiller, 48, surfaced as a potential suspect.
Multiple sources have confirmed that Marxmiller is the leading suspect. Tom Hughes, special agent in charge of the FBI in San Diego, has refused to comment publicly on the status of the investigation.
In a four-hour interview, 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 the 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 have subjected him and a brother to lengthy interviews about their whereabouts up to and after the bombing of the van.
A 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 found in 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 Rogers home.
The FBI also has shown interest in the fact that Rogers' name is among three dozen people listed as witnesses on behalf of Marxmiller's wife, Rebecca Marxmiller, who is suing for divorce in Dekalb County, Ga. Neither George Marxmiller nor Rogers had any explanation for why Rogers name was listed as a witness.
Marxmiller said he has been going through difficult times--including his pending divorce and his decision to honor a March 4 strike at Eastern Airlines. But he 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.
Nevertheless, he said that the FBI is now checking his alibi. Marxmiller said he attended a high school basketball game in Atlanta on March 9. He also produced a personal check with his signature that was canceled at an Atlanta bank on March 9.
Ron Sanders, 48, an Eastern Airlines pilot who lives in Lithonia, Ga., told The Times he went to the basketball game with Marxmiller and Marxmiller's son.
"George was with me from approximately 4 p.m. or thereabouts or 4:30 until almost midnight on the 9th," Sanders said. "His son spent the night with him at George's apartment, after I dropped them off at approximately midnight. So George could not have been anywhere but Atlanta on the night of the 9th." The bomb went off in San Diego early the next morning and investigators have said it probably was planted sometime the previous night.