CHICAGO — A former Iowa letter carrier accused of sending dud pipe bombs to investment advisers called himself to the witness stand Thursday, apologized for his shaky grasp of the law and delivered his own closing in an often bizarre spectacle where he spoke about himself in the third person.
A contrite- and deferential-sounding John Tomkins admitted that he sent threatening letters and fake bombs in a scheme to boost the values of stocks he owned. But he insisted he carefully designed them so they would never explode – not even by accident.
"The whole criminal episode has been horrific," the 47-year-old Dubuque, Iowa native said, also admitting he signed his taunting letters, "The Bishop." "You do not have to like Mr. Tomkins. He screwed up. He admits that."
Tomkins is accused of sending letters from 2005 until 2007 threatening to kill recipients, their families or neighbors unless they took steps to raise the price of 3COM Corp. and Navarre Corp. stocks. Packages included notes reading, "BANG! YOU'RE DEAD."
Prosecutors allege that the bombs, mailed from a suburban Chicago post office in 2007, were real and would have exploded had all the wires been attached.
Jurors were expected to begin deliberations on Friday.
Tomkins sought to portray himself as a simple, small-town union man fond of building race cars in his garage in his spare time. Seconds after starting his closing, he dramatically grabbed his clip-on tie.
"I have to take my tie off," he said, unhinging it and loosening his collar. "That's not who I am. ... I'm a machinist."
But in a final word to jurors, prosecutor Patrick Pope said they shouldn't underestimate what Tomkins did.
"What he did was terror. He terrorized his victims," Pope said, his voice rising.
The government attorney also said the devices could well have gone off.
"Why didn't it explode?" he asked. "Dumb luck!"
Tomkins represented himself throughout the two-week trial. At times, he seemed well-versed in legal matters, even casually citing the names of cases he said were relevant to his case.
Other times, he shuffled though his notes, apparently lost.
"Please do not hold my shortcomings against the defendant when it comes to being a lawyer," he said sheepishly at one point. "The law is a funny thing people – it really is."
Pope seized on the remark as he addressed jurors later.
"He said the law is a funny thing," he said. "It's not. ... There's nothing funny about the bombs he built."
Thursday started with the extraordinary scene of Tomkins calling himself, saying, "I would call the defendant, John Tomkins, to the witness stand."
He answered questions he wrote himself but were read by a legal assistant. Asked about his bid to profit from the threats, Tomkins said, "I am terribly sorry about that."
On the stand, Tomkins walked jurors through how the devices were built, insisting he took pains to ensure they could not go off.
"Were any of these devices designed to explode?" his adviser asked.
"No, they were not," Tomkins answered.
Calm and composed answering his own questions, Tomkins began making grammatical mistakes under tough cross-examination.
Pope pressed him about his claim that he is a man who takes responsibility for his actions, noting he didn't sign his real name to the letters.
Flustered, Tomkins said he wasn't trying to evade responsibility now.
"I ain't trying to hide nuttin'," he said.
As he cross-examined Tomkins, Pope held up parts of the devices Tomkins sent – including pipe and a jar of explosive powder.
Asked by Pope if he sent pipe bombs, Tomkins looked at the judge, raised his hand and asked politely, "Can I object to his question?"
Tomkins, in jail since his arrest in 2007, is charged with mailing threatening communications, illegal possession of a destructive device and using a destructive device in connection with a crime of violence.
If convicted, a judge could impose a more than 200-year prison sentence.
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