Bomb suspect likely to receive bail
JOHNSTOWN – A federal magistrate has rejected a prosecution request to keep Russian native Vladislav Miftakhov in prison pending the outcome of his trial for making bombs in his apartment near Penn State Altoona.
Miftakhov’s attorney, Chris Brown, argued Monday afternoon the only reason the case has received nationwide attention is because the 18-year-old former college freshman is Russian.
“The fact he is Russian should have no importance in this case,” Brown argued before U.S. Magistrate Keith Pesto.
Brown, from the federal Public Defender’s Office in Pittsburgh, said Miftakhov was no different than many young men as they approach adulthood.
“This is what boys do,” Brown said.
He said to Pesto, “I think this case screams for release.”
The defense argued that the Miftakhov case was arousing concern and gaining public attention because of its similarity to the Boston Marathon bombing last April that was allegedly carried out by a 19-year-old Russian-born college student and his brother.
Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, one of the alleged Boston Marathon bombers, is facing the death penalty for killing three spectators and injuring 260 others in the bombing.
“I don’t think we have another [Boston] Marathon bombing,” Pesto said as he told U.S. Attorney James T. Kitchen that he will not order Miftakhov’s detention.
Pesto at the conclusion of Monday’s review – a type of preliminary hearing at the federal level – said enough evidence was presented to forward the charges against Miftakhov to a federal grand jury.
A criminal complaint released last week charges Miftakhov with unlawful receipt, possession, or making of an unregistered firearm.
Pesto, as of late Monday afternoon, had not set conditions for Miftakhov’s release, although he did imply he would order him to serve home detention at his mother’s residence in San Carlos, Calif., and that he would require Miftakhov to submit to a mental health examination.
Although Kitchen would not discuss the case after the 90-minute hearing, he asked the magistrate to stay Miftakhov’s release until he could seek a review of the decision by U.S. District Judge Kim Gibson.
Pesto ordered the stay.
Miftakhov’s parents, Valery and his estranged wife, Jane, were present in court and are seeking to have Vladislav placed in their custody pending the outcome of the case.
A spokeswoman for the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Pittsburgh said the Miftakhov charges must now be presented to a grand jury within a 30-day period – the clock on the 30 days having started to run as of last Friday when Pesto arraigned the youth.
The prosecution argued that Miftakhov was not only a flight risk, living in California and being a citizen of Russia, but that he was an obvious danger to the community in view of what Altoona Police found when they entered his Altoona apartment on Jan. 24 because of the landlord’s complaint that Miftakhov was operating a marijuana growing operation.
Agent Ben Cornali of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, presented a series of photos showing a suitcase police found that contained two explosive devices containing a mixture of atomized magnesium and potassium perchlorate.
Police found 42 empty compressed gas containers that Cornali suggested were likely to be loaded with the explosive mixture.
He said a witness saw Miftakhov explode two of the containers.
The prosecution showed Pesto photos of fuses and a bottle that is used in the bomb-making process to protect against a static spark that could set off an explosion.
Another photo was of a .44-caliber shell that contained a rolled-up note reading, “If you find this, you will never find me,” signed Vladislav Miftakhov.
That note contained an “A” in a circle, which Cornali stated “can represent anarchist symbolism.”
While the defense argued that Miftakhov was a bright student enrolled in engineering at Penn State Altoona, a young man with successful parents – his father has a doctorate in physics from Princeton and his mother has a master’s from Dartmouth – the prosecution countered by pointing out Miftakhov was on probation in California and was a loner, a student who left his room only to attend classes.
Brown said there was no evidence he intended to use his explosives to injure anyone, and he pointed out a prior bombing case he had in which the perpetrator had tried to blow up his girlfriend’s home.
The suspect was granted bail, he said.
Miftakhov did nothing but blow up some dirt in a field, he stated.
Pesto concluded the prosecution did not meet its burden to show detention was warranted.
Mirror Staff Writer Phil Ray is at 946-7468.