“Why did a Federal agent approach me?” Joshua Stafford asked this morning, slouched at the table he'd shared only moments earlier with his co-defendants. The courtroom on the 17th floor of the Federal Building seemed to seize up all at once when the words unexpectedly hit the air, from the packed gallery to the lawyers flanking the conference tables. Heads inched forward, trying to catch the first full sentences to leak from one of the men arrested last week for trying to bomb the Route 82 bridge.
“Why did a Federal agent approach me,” the 23-year-old repeated, aiming his comment at U.S. Magistrate Greg White. The defendant then rambled off into a jag of talk suggesting he was coerced by a federal agent into the plot and should be released immediately, his voice hauling uphill from quiet and nervous to defiantly frustrated.
“Mr. Stafford has a history of mental illness,” his lawyer told the court, trying to cut in on his client. White also did his best to break off the outburst. “This is not in your best interest today,” the magistrate politely explained. “I do not have the authority to dismiss the case even if I wanted to.”
But Stafford was undeterred. As he got to his feet, the defendant – a slinky guy in government-issue orange overalls topped with a wild bush of light hair – reiterated he was set up. Even after U.S. Marshals left with the chained defendant, past the spectators and out a doorway, his voice still echoed from the hallway announcing his innocence.