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Stewart gets life in Montana pipe-bombings

RELATED: See more crime news from the Fredericksburg region

BY MICHAEL BEALL / GREAT FALLS TRIBUNE

GREAT FALLS, Mont.—A former Stafford man was sentenced to life in the Montana State Prison without parole Thursday for throwing pipe bombs at Montana law enforcement during a high-speed chase in November.

Laurence Alan Stewart II was convicted in May for his actions during a 45-mile pursuit across Judith Basin and Cascade counties on Nov. 1, during which he threw five pipe bombs in the vicinity of seven law enforcement officers.

Police in Montana were pursuing Stewart because at the time, Stewart was wanted in Stafford for allegedly setting off pipe bombs on Oct. 30 at the homes of two law enforcement officers and his ex-fiancée, who had a restraining order against him.

District Judge Dirk Sandefur agreed with Cascade County Attorney John Parker’s request of life in prison without parole.

“I’m duly bound to protect the public and punish you to the laws of this state by punishing you for the balance of your life,” Sandefur said. “That’s a big thing for me. I don’t take this lightly, because I know it’s a big thing for you. But this is a case that warrants that.”

The information about Stafford and Fredericksburg charges was not included in the Montana trial, and those charges are still pending.

From Stafford County to Belt, Mont., there was a trail of detonated and undetonated bomb sites, including seven locations between Stanford, Mont., and Belt. Evidence showed the pipe bombs were made from galvanized metal pipe, end caps, cannon fuses and plumbers’ plastic tape. They also contained shrapnel of metal nuts, drywall screws and ball bearings—the same ingredients found in Virginia.

Parker said that no citizen is safe while he is free, and that he demonstrated a cold-blooded, deliberate, pre-planned effort to kill law enforcement.

“He’ll be as dangerous when he’s 88 years old as he is now,” he said. “I don’t want him to be the most dangerous man in a nursing home.”

Parker told the court what the jury was unable to hear that Stewart emerged in Montana 48 hours after he bombed the three homes in Virginia, as Superstorm Sandy ripped through the Atlantic seaboard.

He said that law enforcement were spread thin and up all night trying to assist citizens during the storm.

“He started throwing his bombs during a natural disaster, and 48 hours later—after what we assume was all-night travel across the Continental U.S.—he arrives in Stanford, Mont. to jeopardize seven lives,” Parker said.

The call to Cascade County sheriff’s deputies went over the radio at 11:05 a.m. Nov. 1 to assist the Montana Highway Patrol in apprehending a suspect they were pursuing. Dispatchers said he had thrown pipe bombs at four troopers after they tried to stop him near Stanford, court documents stated.

Deputies laid stop sticks one mile east of Armington Junction to stop him, but Stewart swerved to miss them. He clipped the sticks with a front tire, and he continued to lead the chase, spewing smoke as he drove on one rim.

The suspect’s car began to slow and drove down another gravel road toward Belt, and a patrol car hit and sent the vehicle into a ditch, and a foot pursuit ensued.

Each law enforcement officer who testified being involved in the foot pursuit said the suspect had a pistol, but he held the pistol at head height, with his arm at a 90-degree angle and the barrel pointed up toward the sky.

Stewart was then apprehended with no injury to any law enforcement or the defendant.

Steven Scott, Stewart’s attorney, argued Thursday that no one died, and that the most damage was a few paint scratches on patrol vehicles.

But his main argument was that Virginia, not Montana, should bear the responsibility of trying

and incarcerating Stewart. He said so by making a moral, a fiscal and a humanitarian case on why.

Scott said that the people of Virginia have the moral claim, and that they are alleging that his client blew up houses of two officers and his ex-fiancée.

“I don’t see why Montana taxpayers should have to pay to house Mr. Stewart for the rest of his life,” Scott said.

He said it costs upward of $750,000 to house an individual for life.

Stafford Commonwealth’s Attorney Eric Olsen said his office already has taken the necessary steps to ensure that Stewart will be brought to Virginia to stand trial after he is sentenced in Montana.

Now that Stewart received his Montana sentence, Olsen will formally request temporary custody of Stewart so that he can be tried in Virginia. Virginia authorities would then have six months to try the cases against him.

Once his Virginia trials are over, Stewart would be returned to Montana to serve his sentence.

Sandefur said he wouldn’t give any consideration to how expensive it is to incarcerate Stewart, and that his job is to punish Stewart for what he did under the law.

“You have to go to prison and you have to go to prison for a long time,” Sandefur said.

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