NEWS

Finton pleads guilty to federal courthouse bomb plot

CHRIS DETTRO

* READ: The plea agreement

SPRINGFIELD -- A Decatur man charged with trying to blow up the downtown federal building in Springfield pleaded guilty Monday and was sentenced to 28 years in prison.

Michael C. Finton, 31,  a part-time fry cook, thought he was detonating a van loaded with a ton of explosives parked between the Paul Findley Federal Building and U.S. Rep. Aaron Schock’s office in Springfield on Sept. 23, 2009. He allegedly left the van and used a cellular telephone to send a signal he thought would detonate the bomb.

Finton, who also goes by the name Talib Islam, thought he was working with al-Qaida. In fact, he was working with FBI agents.

Finton appeared before U.S. District Judge David Herndon in federal court in East St. Louis Monday and pleaded guilty to attempted use of a weapon of mass destruction (a bomb) against property owned by the United States. Herndon sentenced Finton to 336 months in prison, in accordance with the terms of his plea agreement.

Plea efforts had failed

Finton was involved in plea negotiations with the government last year, but those discussions were unsuccessful, court documents state.

Then-deputy federal defender Robert Scherschligt asked to withdraw from the case after Finton contacted two local media outlets without the lawyer's knowledge. Herndon granted Scherschligt’s request.

Before the attempted bombing, Finton met several times with an undercover law enforcement officer who Finton believed was acting on behalf of al-Qaida. During a meeting on July 29, 2009, Finton proposed the federal building in Springfield as a target and suggested that two vehicle-borne bombs be used, the first to do the initial damage and the second to attack responders.

Finton also suggested that if the bomb was big enough, it might also “take out” Schock’s office  across the street.

Case moved to southern district

Finton, who converted to Islam while in state prison, has been in custody since his arrest.

Herndon is based in Illinois’ southern federal court district. Federal judges in Springfield, in the central district, could not hear the case because they work in the building Finton is accused of trying to blow up.

In a November 2009 motion to determine Finton’s competency, Scherschligt said he had interviewed Finton, three siblings and Finton’s mother and was told of a family history of psychiatric illness and that Finton was an occasional ward of California’s child welfare services between 1985 and 1996.

The motion said Finton has been diagnosed with bipolar disorder.

Family members also reported past bizarre behavior by Finton.

Chris Dettro can be reached at (217) 788-1510.