Jury finds Kennedy guilty of bomb charges

By JAMES MITCHELL
Sunday Times Newspapers

TRENTON — A jury took less than four hours to agree that the device left by an Indiana man in a hardware store parking lot met the definition of “destructive,” and found John Robert Kennedy guilty on three felony explosives and weapons charges.

The device in question was planted by Kennedy in the parking lot of ACO Hardware on Van Horn Road in April 2011, one of two bombs left in the city during a four-day period by Kennedy, who was also charged with making a telephone bomb threat to Trenton High School where an incendiary device was left.

Prior to the start of the trial Kennedy pleaded guilty to two of six counts before District Judge John Corbett O’Meara: Possession of explosive materials and felon in possession of ammunition.

Kennedy’s admission of guilt and prior convictions in Michigan and his native Indiana challenged defense attorney Penny Beardslee. During closing arguments Beardslee said the case was “unusual in one respect,” and understood that jurors might not be sympathetic after her client admitted guilt to certain charges.

Kennedy’s fascination with explosives and firearms were made clear to jurors, but Beardslee argued that the specific device in question did not meet the legal definition required to be considered an incendiary device.

Beardslee’s defense presented over two weeks argued that the chemicals found in the parking lot were not by themselves “destructive” or “incendiary” according to definitions held by the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, which assisted in the investigation.

After Kennedy made a bomb threat over the phone to Trenton High School on April 28, 2011, federal agents, Michigan State Police and Trenton police traced the call to a disposable phone purchased in Woodhaven. Parking lot and store surveillance footage provided an image of Kennedy and vehicle license plate, and the call was tracked to a Flat Rock mobile home, where Kennedy was arrested.

The jury found Kennedy guilty of three charges, each punishable by up to 10 years in prison: Possession of an unregistered fiream (destructive device); felon in possesion of a firearm; and manufacture of a firearm (destructive device). The definition weighed heavily on the proceedings, as Beardslee said that a device must meet certain criteria to be considered a “weapon,” to be “destructive” or to be “incendiary.”

Kennedy will be sentenced on March 5.

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