EAST ST. LOUIS, Ill. – An explosives-trained Army veteran who wore a fake bomb during a standoff that followed a phone call to a mosque in which he threatened to "start an apocalypse" was sentenced Friday to five years in prison by a federal judge who called the matter an escalation of the man's aggression.
U.S. District Judge David Herdon wasn't swayed by Roman Conaway's apology during a rambling, 18-minute appeal for leniency, handing the former Walmart worker a prison term longer than the four years and two months prosecutors sought. Conaway's attorney pressed for a sentence of 2 1/2 years.
"There are people with anger-management problems, and there's Mr. Conaway," Herndon said in imposing the punishment, citing the man's history of aggressive behavior, starting with a 1981 conviction of making harassing phone calls and including a pledge during a 2000 child-welfare dispute that he'd "take some people out and get off by pleading insanity."
Conaway, 52, had insisted to Herndon he knew what he did was wrong but that he never meant to harm anyone with the bogus bomb or the threats preceeding it, casting himself as a cash-strapped guy who at times was swallowed up by bills and a gambling addiction he developed trying to pay them.
"I'm asking for the court to have mercy, to think of all the stress I've been under," Conaway implored. "I just want to get back my family and get my life started."
Conaway bowed his head into his shackled hands and closed his eyes moments later when Herndon imposed the punishment. Conaway's wife, who federal authorities say Conaway used as a human shield from snipers dispatch the FBI, Secret Service, Red Cross, emergency-management officials, a state bomb squad and many dozens of police officers, FBI agent Richard Box testified. The tab of that response reached at least $39,000, which Herndon ordered Conaway to repay.
Conaway's public defender, Phillip Kavanaugh III, called the threats and the standoff "an all-inclusive tantrum" by his client and the manifestation of Conaway's bipolar disorder, abuse of prescription medication and chronic lack of sleep.
"He went over the top," Kavanaugh said. "If Roman Conaway had the proper medical care to start with, this never would have happened."