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New Charges Filed in Alleged School Bomb Scheme

Crime: Prosecutors say two teens conspired to commit 'an act injurious to the public' in plot to plant explosive device at Burbank High. Suspect's disability is an issue.

April 27, 2001|ZANTO PEABODY | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Armed with new details of an alleged bombing plot, prosecutors filed harsher charges Thursday against two young men accused of planning to set off an explosive device at Burbank High School.

The charge of "conspiracy to commit an act injurious to the public" would double any prison sentences for Patrick Longmire and Christopher Mannino, both 18, if they are convicted, Deputy Dist. Atty. Paul Zergojan said.

Since the two pleaded not guilty Tuesday to the original charges, investigators "have found overt facts to support the allegation for conspiracy," Zergojan said.

Longmire and Mannino sought a second potential bomb-maker after a student they had asked to make an explosive device turned them down, said Sgt. Bill Taylor of the Burbank Police Department.

"When the facts come out that we can't release yet, you'll see there was very good reason to take [the defendants] seriously," Taylor said. "At a couple of little points, this plot came dangerously close to being completed."

The complaint filed Thursday outlined some details of the alleged plan: The defendants reportedly cased the high school between March 1 and April 21 to find a place to hide a bomb. Mannino and Longmire discussed which type of bomb to use and decided to place it in a locked building beside Room 157, a math classroom in the school's basement.

Longmire, a junior in special education at Burbank High, and Mannino, who attended school in Van Nuys until last June, are in jail in lieu of $1-million bail each while awaiting trial.

While the stakes have escalated in court, Longmire's disability has become a point of discussion outside court for his family, defense attorney and a student advocacy group.

Police said Longmire's alleged motive for the conspiracy was to exact revenge on those who teased him at school. The 6-foot-3 junior is a bit older than his classmates, has cerebral palsy and walks with a limp.

Though his family maintained he would never have carried out the plot, his grandfather, Jack Longmire, said Thursday he understands the district attorney's aggressive prosecution of the case. But the grandfather also disputed claims by the school district that Longmire had been in trouble before.

"I think [the tougher charge] is fair because of what they found," the elder Longmire said. "What else could they do? But they don't know the circumstance like we do. I don't believe he'd do it."

Jack Longmire said he had never seen Mannino, a Van Nuys resident, before the men's arraignment Tuesday. He said his grandson had no friends. Mannino's family has denied his involvement and refused to comment.

Mark Lopez, head of the Laguna Niguel-based student advocacy group SchoolWatch, said he plans to file a friend of the court brief or otherwise act on behalf of Longmire. The police and the school have demonized the young man's actions without taking his disability into account, Lopez said.

"Some police and principals these days look at every accused student like he's [Columbine shooting suspects] Dylan Klebold or Eric Harris," Lopez said. "If his behavior is a manifestation of his disabling condition, by law, they have to consider it--not as an excuse but as a reason to look at it from a different perspective."

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Times staff writer David Pierson contributed to this story.

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