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How Do You Plead?

The Record and Transcript provide updates on the Cole Field Three.

According to the police report, Sgt. Scott McGowan responded to Cole Field on the college campus on Sunday, April 15, at 12:42 a.m. when someone reported seeing a small fire there.

McGowan wrote that he saw an explosive device that was on fire but had not detonated. He said he found two plastic bags, one from a store and another with a product bar code on it.

His report stated that the bar code helped him determine when the product was purchased. He said he used this information to look at who had bought the item on Wal-Mart’s surveillance camera tape.

The tape showed a “white male,” allegedly *, buying the item with a “credit or debit card,” he wrote. McGowan wrote that he contacted members of the Federal Bureau of Investigation to obtain bank records showing the purchase.

Police then interviewed *, he wrote, which led them to also file complaints against * and * for allegedly participating in or being present for the explosive’s assembly.

The maximum sentence for possessing an infernal device was not listed in the complaint file. Maximum punishment for disorderly conduct is no more than six months in jail and no more than a $200 fine, or both.

We have been asked not to print the names of the students involved. We won’t. Comments which mention their names will be deleted. Kudos to Sgt. McGowan for an impressive investigation.

The students pleaded not guilty yesterday. Back to court on Friday. Condolences to the students (by all accounts good kids) and their families during a stressful time. It must be especially awkward since the three participated to different extents and, therefore, have different (and, perhaps, conflicting) interests in the case.


Dumb Thing To Do

A good overview of the Cole Field bombing from iBerkshires: “A Really Dumb Thing To Do

If charged and convicted on the felony charge, the students could face a maximum state prison term of ten years.

Police declined to disclose the type of bomb and the materials used to create it but McGowan did say that an inadvertent mingling of the substances would not have generated in an explosion.

“These materials – even if they combined during transportation – did not pose a threat,” he said during an early afternoon interview at the town police station. The device required assembly before an explosion could result, he said. The device police found was assembled.

A search warrant was issued and executed for a student room at the Pratt resident hall as part of the investigation, McGowan said.

It’s probably been an interesting three weeks for the JAs of these misguided (but almost certainly harmless) first years. That’s why they pay JAs the big bucks. Just like bloggers!


Infernal Machine

More on the Cole Field Three.

Three freshmen at Williams College out to shock the school face felony charges for reportedly attempting to detonate a homemade bomb on campus less than a day before the massacre at Virginia Tech.

A dean at the prestigious western Massachusetts college alerted parents yesterday in an e-mail lamenting the bomb scare. Police said if the explosive device had worked early Sunday, the campus would have been rocked.

“At this particularly sensitive time, I thought I’d take the risk of over-reporting,” Dean Nancy Roseman wrote in a stern e-mail obtained by the Herald. “We all long for the time when such things don’t jangle our nerves quite so much,” she added in the missive sent home to parents. Williamstown police Sgt. Scott McGowen told the Herald the three 19-year-old males each face charges of possession of an infernal machine – a felony – and disorderly conduct. The names of the three students will not be made public until Monday, McGowen added.

Police were called at 12:42 a.m. Sunday to a practice field at the bucolic campus, where they spotted the explosive device, McGowen said. “They failed to detonate it, thankfully,” McGowen said, adding that if the bomb had gone off it would have resulted in a loud explosion but probably no injuries. An investigation assisted by state police and FBI led to the charges against the three freshmen, who face “sanctions” from the college, the dean said.


1) The Herald has a copy of the e-mail and we don’t?! Could a parent reader please post it in the comments? UPDATE: See comments. Thanks!

2) The intent of the students was to “shock the school.” Interesting. Our previous discussion assumed that this was more of a (drunked?) lark than an attempt to create discussion on campus. Note the difference between this description and the previous claim that their “intent was not to cause damage or injury but to pursue their curiosity about such a device.”

3) Doesn’t this raise a whole host of interesting legal questions? I think so! Assume that the students (or at least one of them) had some sort of political intent. They wanted to “shock the school.” (I am not sure how, but leave that to one side.) Isn’t political speech protected? Even speech involving fire? If the students had decided, instead, to burn an American flag (or a copy of Mein Kampf or whatever) then there would be no punishment from the police or the college. Now, obviously, if you burn a flag in a dangerous fashion (in the middle of a crowd), then you may be liable for endangerment. But it seems (?) like the students took every (most?) reasonable safety precautions. Lawyer opinions sought!

4) We need someone to provide some relevant Massachusetts case law on infernal machines. If the Williams Rocket Club can launch from Cole Field (presumably without checking with the Williamstown police) then why can’t these students set off a bomb? (The College might still have grounds to act against them and not the rocket club since the latter (I assume) seeks permission.

Berkshire Eagle
coverage below.)

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Williamstown Police to Seek Charges Against Thrill Seekers

The following is a news release from the WPD. Dean Roseman’s message is in the extended entry below.

Released April 20, 2007

On Sunday, April 15, 2007 at approximately 12:42 am, members of the
Williamstown Police Department responded to a report of suspicious
activity discovered by Williams College Safety & Security. Police
officers found evidence there that a homemade explosive device had
been assembled in the southwest corner of the college’s Cole Field
remote area well away from any buildings. The device had been
ignited, but failed to burn.

An investigation by the Williamstown Police Department, with
assistance from both the Massachusetts State Police and the Federal
Bureau of Investigation and in conjunction with Williams College
Safety & Security, identified three individuals responsible for
constructing and lighting the material.

All three, who are students at Williams College, cooperated with the
investigation. Their intent was not to cause damage or injury but to
pursue their curiosity about such a device. They will be summoned to
North Adams District Court on charges of Possession of an Infernal
Machine and Disorderly Conduct. They also face possible sanction
from Williams College.

Specifics regarding the device and the materials used to construct it
will not be released to the public.

“Possession of an Infernal Machine” to me suggests either owning an oven or getting mad at your computer, but here it means “making a homemade bomb.”

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