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'Rainbow Man' Sentenced to 3 Life Terms : Crime: Rollen Stewart, known for his bizarre wig and religious placards, is convicted of taking over a hotel room at LAX and holding a maid hostage.

July 14, 1993|ANDREA FORD | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Rollen Frederick Stewart--known to millions as "Rainbow Man" because he wore multicolored wigs as he flashed religious placards at televised sporting events--was sentenced Tuesday to three life terms in prison for a hostage-taking incident last year at a hotel near Los Angeles International Airport.

Stewart, 48, was removed from the courtroom of Superior Court Judge Robert P. O'Neill after he repeatedly called out warnings of a nuclear holocaust during a prosecutor's appeal for the maximum sentence. At one point, Stewart said he had not intended to harm anyone during the 9-hour standoff with police at the airport Hyatt hotel Sept. 22, but staged the incident to warn the world of its doom.

"I feel I have a right to speak," he told O'Neill before several bailiffs wrestled him to the floor. "All I'm trying to do is make a statement about the end of the world."

Sitting in the rear of the courtroom, weeping during the outburst, was the maid who was trapped in the room that Stewart took over.

As he was carried away, Stewart asked God to forgive the bailiffs, "for they know not what they do."

Earlier in the case, Stewart was offered a plea bargain for a 12-year sentence, but he insisted on going to trial. Had he accepted the deal, he would have been eligible for parole in six years.

The life sentences are to be served concurrently. Stewart is still eligible for parole, but it is up to prison officials to determine when he can have a parole hearing.

"He presents a threat and his actions cannot be tolerated no matter his religious belief," O'Neill said in imposing the life terms.

Stewart's pastor, Charles Taylor, criticized the sentence as being too harsh and said it had not been Stewart's intention to harm anyone.

But Deputy Dist. Atty. Sally Lipscomb has characterized Stewart as being dangerous and told O'Neill that Stewart was "a David Koresh waiting to happen," referring to the Branch Davidian leader who died in a fire April 19 in Waco, Tex., along with 85 of his followers.

Stewart was convicted last month of taking the maid hostage and making terrorist threats.

In April, 1991, he was linked to remote-controlled stink bombs set off at the Masters Golf Tournament in Augusta, Ga., but the golf club declined to press charges. A few weeks later, he was accused of setting off similar bombs at various sites in Orange County and an arrest warrant was issued.

The day of the standoff, Stewart picked up two transient laborers and took them to the Hyatt, promising them jobs. He led the men to the seventh floor, where he went into a room that was being cleaned by Paula Madera-Chan, 39.

When Stewart, who had a pistol, tried to force the men into a bathroom with Madera-Chan, they fled and she locked herself in, then telephoned the hotel management. During the standoff, police said, Stewart threatened to shoot at planes flying into LAX and plastered signs that read "John 3:16," referring to a Bible verse, to the hotel room windows.

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