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Ex-JDL Activist Found Guilty in Bombing Death

October 15, 1993|ERIC MALNIC | TIMES STAFF WRITER

A former Jewish Defense League activist extradited from Israel in July was convicted here Thursday of complicity in the 1980 bomb death of a secretary at a Manhattan Beach computer company.

A federal jury deliberated for less than three hours before finding Robert Manning, 41, guilty of mailing the explosive device that killed 32-year-old Patricia Wilkerson.

Manning's wife, Rochelle, 53, who is fighting extradition from Israel, and Westside real estate broker William Ross, 57, who is a fugitive, still face charges in connection with Wilkerson's death.

Robert Manning has also been named by federal officials as the prime suspect in the 1985 bombing death in Santa Ana of Alex Odeh, head of the Arab-American Anti-Discrimination Committee's western office, although Manning has not been charged in the case.

He is also a suspect in several other bombings linked to Rabbi Meir Kahane, a militant Jewish leader assassinated in New York in 1990, officials say.

U.S. Atty. Terree Bowers said Thursday that the jury's verdict against Manning in the Wilkerson case was "very gratifying," noting that extraditions from Israel in such cases are "very rare."

Manning, who showed no emotion as the verdict was read, faces a maximum term of life imprisonment when he is sentenced Jan. 3.

Assistant U.S. Atty. Dean Dunlavey contended during the trial that the bomb that killed Wilkerson was intended for her boss, Brenda Crouthamel Adams, who ran the computer firm ProWest with her husband.

The prosecutor said Adams and Ross had been involved in a three-year legal battle over the sale of a house, and that Ross hired the Mannings, who were associates from the JDL, to mail a bomb to Adams.

Adams was too busy to open the cardboard box when it arrived, so she left it on Wilkerson's chair, Dunlavey said.

When Wilkerson unwrapped the package later in the day, she found a metal device, prosecutors said. Accompanying it were instructions to plug it into an electrical outlet to hear a recorded message.

Wilkerson plugged in the device, triggering a blast that killed her and destroyed the ProWest offices.

Five years after Wilkerson's death, Odeh was killed when he opened the door to his Santa Ana office and triggered an explosive booby trap. That bombing, on Oct. 11, 1985, took place a day after Odeh had defended the Palestine Liberation Organization in a televised interview.

Not long after Odeh's death, the Mannings moved to Israel. In the months that followed, investigators said they found the couple's fingerprints on the carton that contained the bomb that killed Wilkerson.

Rochelle Manning returned to the United States, where she and Ross were tried in the Wilkerson killing. Both were released after a jury failed to reach a verdict, and Rochelle Manning returned to Israel.

The Mannings were arrested in Israel in March, 1991, for another trial in the Wilkerson case. Robert Manning was extradited last July, but Rochelle Manning is still battling to remain in Israel.

Ross failed to surrender for retrial in the Wilkerson case and is considered a fugitive, Dunlavey said.

Dunlavey declined comment Thursday about any plans to try Robert Manning in the Odeh case. Under the terms of U.S.-Israeli extradition treaties, suspects can be tried only in the cases for which they were extradited. Manning was extradited for the Wilkerson case.

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