SPOKANE, Wash. (AP) — An Army veteran with extensive ties to white supremacists was sentenced to 32 years in prison Tuesday for planting a poison-laced bomb along a Martin Luther King Jr. Day parade route in what he said was meant to be an attack against the cultural diversity celebrated by the event.

Kevin Harpham tried unsuccessfully to withdraw his earlier guilty plea just before receiving the maximum punishment from U.S. District Court Judge Justin Quackenbush, who said the previously law-abiding Harpham seemed to be influenced by a “shrill and caustic and vitriolic” culture fueled by talk media.

Harpham told the judge: “I am not guilty of the acts that I am accused of and that I plead guilty to.” He said he only agreed to the deal in September to avoid a possible life sentence.

The statement prompted Quackenbush to impose the higher end of the possible prison sentence, which was negotiated in the plea bargain as between 27 and 32 years.

“I am distressed that you appear not the least bit apologetic,” Quackenbush said.

Harpham blamed the judge for not giving his defense team enough time. The 37-year-old said he did not intend to injure people with the bomb he placed in downtown Spokane prior to the January parade.

Rather, he intended for the shrapnel to hit the side of a building as a show of protest against the multiculturalism celebrated by the parade, he said.

“I was making a statement that there are people out there who don’t agree with these ideas,” Harpham said. He likened himself to a Christian protesting gay marriage, “but a bit more dangerous or extreme.”

The judge said he was perplexed because Harpham was honorably discharged from the Army and had no criminal record.

“That is contrary to what this community and this country is
about,” Quackenbush said.

Just before he was scheduled to be sentenced, Harpham’s lawyer tried unsuccessfully to withdraw his guilty plea by noting that a newly hired defense expert questioned whether the explosive device in question met the legal definition of a bomb.

Harpham said he intended to seek an appeal, which he has 14 days to file.

Federal prosecutors said it was important that a long sentence be imposed in the case.

“Acts of hate like this one have no place in our country in 2011,” said Thomas Perez, assistant attorney general for the civil rights division in Washington, D.C.

Federal officials have said Harpham acted alone.

The pipe bomb was loaded with lead fishing weights coated in rat poison, which can inhibit blood clotting in wounds, officials have said. The bomb was discovered and disabled before it could explode.

The parade on Jan. 17 drew a crowd of about 2,000 on a cold winter morning. It was forced onto an alternative route after the bomb was found. Harpham walked in the parade and took pictures of young black children and of a Jewish man who was wearing a yarmulke, prosecutors have said.

Prosecutors said Harpham acted alone. He was arrested March 9 at his rural home near Addy, Wash.

The plea deal charged Harpham with attempted use of a weapon of mass destruction, and the hate crime of placing the bomb in an effort to target minorities. Prosecutors dropped charges of using a firearm in relation to a crime of violence and unauthorized possession of an unregistered explosive device. If convicted, he could have faced up to life in prison.

The Southern Poverty Law Center, which tracks hate groups, has said that Harpham made more than 1,000 postings on the Vanguard News Network, a white supremacist website. The center also has said that Harpham belonged to a neo-Nazi group called the National Alliance.

Harpham served from 1996 to 1999 in the Army at what is now Joint Base Lewis-McChord, near Tacoma. His lawyers have said Harpham had not been recently employed.

He has remained in the Spokane County Jail without bail since his arrest. Under the deal, Harpham would remain on probation for the rest of his life once he leaves prison.

During his sentencing, a suspicious package was found near the federal courthouse, but a bomb squad determined it was not an explosive.

Copyright 2011 The Associated Press.


Nicholas K. Geranios

Associated Press