A former Jewish Defense League activist was sentenced to life in prison Monday for his role in the 1980 mail bomb death of a secretary at a Manhattan Beach computer company.
Robert Manning, 42, fought extradition from Israel for nearly two years before he was returned to Los Angeles and convicted Oct. 14 of mailing the explosive package that killed 32-year-old Patricia Wilkerson.
U.S. District Judge Dickran Tevrizian cited the "callous" and "hideous" nature of Manning's crime in sentencing him to the maximum term. Manning will be eligible for parole in 30 years.
"Mr. Manning, in this court's opinion, is clearly a danger to society," Tevrizian said, adding that the life sentence is commensurate with Manning's "utter disregard for the public."
Before he was sentenced, Manning denied involvement in what he called a "horrible crime" and asked the judge to recommend that he be imprisoned in Israel.
"This whole thing is sickening to me," Manning said. "I wouldn't have anything to do with this sort of thing."
Manning's attorney, who had asked at the start of the court session to be removed from the case, told Tevrizian after the sentence was pronounced that his client should be eligible for parole after 10 years. Attorney Richard Sherman said the federal statute in place in 1980 called for a maximum term of 30 years, with a parole date in one-third that time.
But Tevrizian refused to revise his sentence, telling Manning and Sherman that they could appeal the conviction and the sentence if they believed it was wrongly imposed.
Also accused of complicity in the murder and scheduled for trial in July are Manning's wife, Rochelle, 53, and former real estate agent William Ross. Rochelle Manning is fighting extradition from Israel. Ross was recently returned to Los Angeles after fleeing to Canada.
"We're elated with the sentencing, and we feel it closes a chapter in this horrendous case," said Michael Ahern, acting chief postal inspector in charge of the Los Angeles division, whose agents investigated the bombing. "We're looking to the trials of the remaining two defendants."
Ahern and his agents doggedly pursued Manning and his wife and fought for their extradition from Israel.
Prosecutors have said that Ross was embroiled in a real estate dispute and lawsuit with Wilkerson's employer, Brenda Crouthamel-Adams, who ran the computer firm ProWest with her husband. Ross enlisted the Mannings to build and mail the bomb, prosecutors said.
Crouthamel-Adams was too busy to open the cardboard box when it arrived, so she left it on Wilkerson's chair, prosecutors 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.
Robert Manning also has been named by federal authorities as the prime suspect in the 1985 bombing death in Santa Ana of Alex Odeh, head of the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee's western office. Manning has not been charged in that case. And he is a suspect in several other bombings linked to the late Rabbi Meir Kahane, a militant Jewish leader assassinated in New York in 1990, officials said.
After Odeh's death, the Mannings moved to Israel. Meanwhile, investigators in this country found the couple's fingerprints on the carton in which the bomb that killed Wilkerson had been sent.
In June, 1988, Rochelle Manning returned to the United States, where she and Ross were tried in the Wilkerson killing. Both were released after a jury was unable to reach a verdict. Rochelle Manning then returned to Israel.