Catahoula man argues bomb case

Published 12:05 am Thursday, November 13, 2014

Jonesvile — The Catahoula Parish man accused of setting off an explosion that started a five-day search for bombs near Jonesville is asking federal authorities to throw out much of the evidence gathered against him.

Bill Womack was indicted in late September of possession of an unregistered destructive device, possession of an unregistered silencer, possession of an unregistered firearm, possession of marijuana with intent to distribute and possession of a firearm in furtherance of drug trafficking.

The indictment followed Womack’s Aug. 25 arrest following a reported explosion inside his estranged wife’s GMC Yukon. Agents with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives seized 64 items — including reported explosives and guns — during a search of Womack’s residence Aug. 25 to 30.

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A Catahoula Parish warrant citing the federal warrant was used to seize 23 additional items as evidence.

In a motion filed with the U.S. District Court’s Western District of Louisiana, Womack has asked the judge to suppress all of the evidence seized during the searches.

Womack’s argument lies with the language of the federal affidavit used to justify the search and seizure warrant, which refers to the Yukon incident as “an explosives incident.”

In his request to have the evidence thrown out, Womack notes at a Sept. 30 detention hearing, an ATF agent testified “the ATF had not made a determination of the cause of the damage that occurred to the Yukon on Aug. 25, 2014, and, in particular, has been unable to determine whether the incident involved an explosion, or the use of a bomb or other explosive device.”

Womack’s filing also quotes the ATF affidavit saying agents observed in plain view “a burned carcass of what appeared to be a small animal” whose remains appeared to contain a small spring and wires at Womack’s residence. Agents had reportedly found the remains of a small animal inside the Yukon.

Womack’s filing says the testimony of an ATF agent at the detention hearing, “revealed that the item observed in the defendant’s backyard was merely a burned stuffed doll, and was not an object that had been exploded.”

The defendant contends in the filing the federal judge granted the warrant based on undetermined information.

“The representation set forth in the ATF affidavit that the Yukon incident involved an explosion was definitive and unqualified,” the filing states.

“At best, the representation in the ATF affidavit that an explosion had occurred was made in reckless disregard of the truth. The ATF is an agency that routinely investigates incidents involving alleged explosions, and should have disclosed to the magistrate judge that it had not made a determination of whether an explosion had occurred, or whether an explosive device had been used. Instead, the ATF affidavit affirmatively represented to the contrary.”

Womack contends the representation of the burned toy as an explosive device “was made without sufficient investigation and in reckless disregard of the truth.”

The warrant also cited a concerned individual who told agents he or she had in months past seen Womack with hand grenades, pipe bombs and machine guns. The filing contends statements about what had been seen several months prior were too dated to create sufficient probable cause for the August search.

Womack also contends that statements by a family member to ATF agents that he allegedly said his wife would be blown up if she put her key in the back door does not constitute probable cause.

“The ATF affidavit does not contain other truthful information that would tend to show or indicate that the defendant had the intention or the means to ‘blow up’ a person entering the back door of his residence,” the filing states.

The Catahoula Parish search warrant should be thrown out, Womack contends in the filing, because it was based in part on evidence found during the federal search.

In a response filed Monday, the U.S. Attorney’s Office argued the statements in the affidavit filed to justify the warrants “were objectively reasonable under the circumstances” and Womack should not be entitled to a hearing in the matter.

The motion to suppress has been referred to a judge but no date has been set for a hearing.

Womack’s local attorney, Paul Lemke of Harrisonburg, could not be reached for comment Wednesday afternoon.