CHICAGO – A former Iowa letter carrier accused of sending dud pipe bombs and taunting letters signed "The Bishop" called himself to the witness stand and gave his own closing arguments Thursday, admitting he sent the devices but insisting they never would have gone off.
John Tomkins, who has represented himself throughout the trial, began the sometimes bizarre spectacle of questioning of himself Thursday by announcing that he was calling "defendant John Tomkins" to testify. He then walked to the witness stand and a legal adviser read aloud questions that Tomkins himself written.
Tomkins, 47, repeated what he said in his opening earlier this week: that he sent the threatening letters to investment advisers in a scheme to boost the value of his stocks. But he quickly added he intentionally constructed fake bombs that would not explode.
At one point, the Dubuque, Iowa, man apologized for the letters: "I am terribly sorry about that."
The adviser asked, "Are you offering excuses?" Tomkins responded flatly, "There is no excuse."
Tomkins is accused of sending letters threatening to kill recipients, their families or neighbors unless they took steps to raise the price of 3COM Corp. and Navarre Corp. stocks, in which he invested. The letters, sent from 2005 to 2007, were signed, "The Bishop."
Packages included notes reading, "BANG! YOU'RE DEAD," and a message that declared that the only reason the receiver was still alive was because one wire was intentionally not attached.
Prosecutors say the bombs were real and would have exploded had all the wires been attached. The letters included a demand to act by a deadline or bombs that explode would follow. They ended with the words "Tick, tock" or "Time's up."
Coatless and wearing a black tie, Tomkins spoke clearly and struck a deferential tone while on the stand Thursday. He kept looking to his left to make eye contact with jurors.
He 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, composed and well-spoken in answering his own questions, Tomkins' began to make grammatical mistakes under a tough cross-examination.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Patrick Pope pressed Tomkins 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 questioned Tomkins, the prosecutor held up parts of the devices Tomkins sent through the mail — including a pipe cut into pieces and a jar of a black explosive powder.
Asked by Pope if he sent pipe bombs, Tomkins paused, looked up at the judge, raised his hand and asked, "Can I object to his question?"
Tomkins repeatedly sought to make the point that none the devices ever went off, answering one question from the prosecutor with his own question.
"Was anyone ever killed, harmed physically?" he asked. "No," he answered.
Tomkins and the prosecution were expected to deliver closing arguments to jurors later Thursday.
Before closing arguments, Tomkins removed his tie and laid it on the defense table.
"I have to take my tie off," he said. "That's not who I am. ... I am a machinist."
He spoke of himself in the third person as he arguing that the explosives were never operationally and couldn't possibly go off.
"The defendant didn't do destructive devices," he said.
Pope, however, told jurors that Tomkins "lied through his teeth" when he said he constructed bombs so they wouldn't go off.
"Why didn't it explode?" Pope asked, raising his voice. "Dumb luck!"
He also told jurors not to underestimate what Tomkins did, calling it terror.
Tomkins, who has been in custody 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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