Prosecutors have reached plea bargains with Christopher David Fisher and a juvenile co-defendant charged with plotting to blow up the First African Methodist Episcopal Church in an effort to start a race war, a federal attorney said Wednesday.
Assistant U.S. Atty. Marc Greenberg declined to reveal details of the agreements, and defense attorney Anna Ho could not be reached for comment.
U.S. Atty. Terree Bowers issued a terse statement saying: "We will not comment on any plea agreements until such time as the pleas have been entered and accepted by the court."
U.S. District Judge William Matthew Byrne, who presided over Wednesday's proceedings, indicated that he will not deal with the plea-bargain issue until Oct. 18 at the earliest. It was Byrne's chance remark that revealed that such an agreement exists.
Wednesday's hearing was scheduled to deal with a narrow legal question regarding the federal government's jurisdiction in the case.
Fisher, 20, and his 17-year-old co-defendant are charged with conspiring to make and use bombs to damage property used in interstate commerce or affecting interstate commerce.
Greenberg insists that the language of the charges can be interpreted with considerable latitude and the federal court in Los Angeles should have jurisdiction. Defense attorneys interpret the "interstate commerce" wording more literally and argue that the federal court here should not have jurisdiction.
Byrne asked attorneys from both sides to submit written arguments on the jurisdiction issue and set Oct. 18 as the tentative date for deciding the matter, adding, "The jurisdictional issue will be decided before we turn to the plea bargain."
It was the first public mention of any plea bargain, and Greenberg--surrounded by reporters after the brief court session ended--reluctantly acknowledged that such an agreement exists. But he was unwilling to go further, and additional details were not immediately available.
The attorneys in the case spent much of Wednesday in a closed hearing for the juvenile co-defendant, apparently dealing with a motion by the defense to have the case against the 17-year-old dismissed. That motion is believed to be based on the defense's arguments about a lack of federal jurisdiction.
If a federal trial should proceed and Fisher is convicted of all the charges against him, he would face a maximum sentence of life imprisonment without possibility of parole.
Fisher was one of eight suspected white supremacists arrested July 15 in a series of coordinated raids by federal agents and Los Angeles police.
Investigators say Fisher, who lived with his parents in Long Beach, was the leader of a group of violent young racists known as the Fourth Reich Skinheads.
Documents filed last week reveal that Fisher told authorities after his arrest that he participated in three bomb attacks, including the attempted bombing of a synagogue in Orange County.
Although Fisher denied involvement in any other bombings, the documents show that the juvenile co-defendant told authorities that he and Fisher also acted as lookouts during a pipe bomb attack on the home of a member of the Spur Posse, a group of Lakewood youths whose members boasted of their sexual activity. According to prosecutors, the Spur Posse member was targeted because he is part Mexican and part Asian.
No one was hurt in the bombings.
Authorities have described the Fourth Reich Skinheads as a faction of the White Aryan Resistance, a nationally known white supremacist group based in Fallbrook in San Diego County. The group's founder, Tom Metzger, has denied that the skinheads are affiliated with his organization.