Brad Kahle 11

Defendant Brad Kahle of Clearfield heads back to Federal Count in Johnstown, Pa. Feb. 9, 2010. Accused of Bomb Making.

A Clearfield County stonemason was acquitted Wednesday of possessing explosive bombs as a gasp – “ahh” – rumbled through a crowd of 15 supporters when the verdict was read.

“I’m very glad,” a beaming Bradley Kahle, 62, of Troutville, said outside U.S. District Court in Johnstown.

“It’s good to be over and the U.S. Constitution was the big winner.”

He singled out amendments concerning freedom of speech and the right to bear arms. Asked if he were bitter at the government, Kahle didn’t want to go there.

Defense attorney Blair Hindman of Clarion said, “Mr. Kahle stared down the federal government for a period of 21 months. Because of 12 average citizens, he prevailed.

“I honestly believed the government was overzealous in this prosecution.”

Hindman immediately petitioned for the return of any of Kahle’s personal items and for the removal of a locator bracelet.

The foreman of the nine-man, three-woman jury said he would not comment on the decision.

Likewise, prosecutor Margaret Picking, an assistant U.S. attorney, said she would have no comment.

What is a weapon?

The jury deliberated about three hours Wednesday afternoon, only breaking to ask U.S. District Judge Kim Gibson for the legal definition of “weapon.”

The judge told them it was something designed to kill or injure.

During the three-day trial, Hindman didn’t deny Kahle had 16 black-powder sticks, but he said they were no different than what thousands of other Americans have in their garages. He said his client never directly threatened anyone.

Kahle can be heard in government recordings indicating that he would use explosives against government agents if, for example, “the revolution comes” or in a raid.

Yet Hindman noted that Kahle talked about using the explosives in a defensive posture.

“And the evidence showed that Brad Kahle didn’t build anything,” Hindman said, hinting that Picking was backing away from her contention that Kahle planned to build IEDs.

Picking said in closing arguments the government was sticking to its guns – that Kahle possessed “destructive devices consisting of explosive bombs.” She said possessing any one of the elements of a bomb – explosive, fuse and container – is a violation of federal law.

Yet Picking seemed Wednesday to downplay talk of bean-can grenades, a shrapnel device incorporating the sticks that the government got Kahle to describe, but not to build.

Picking said intent was a key factor in the case.

“You’ve heard the defendant on tape say what he planned to do with these destructive devices,” Picking told jury in her closing arguments. Kahle was audiotaped saying he would toss out bean-can grenades during any police raid of his home.

He said the maimed officers then could be killed at will.

Kahle and other members of the so-called Brookville Tigers Militia had expressed fears for their rights to gun ownership during the 2008 presidential election season.

‘The ballot box’

“You don’t have to like your government,” Picking said while addressing the jurors. “That’s your right. There’s a critical difference between disagreeing with your government and making bombs.

“Fight back through the ballot box. You don’t make bombs.”

Hindman told jurors: “You don’t have to share his (anti-government) view. You have to share his right to have his view.”

Picking said just possessing the 16 sticks – some individually registering up to 900 times the legal limits of a black-powder firework – is illegal if they’re not registered with the government.

The defense case was presented Wednesday morning. Hindman did not call Kahle to the stand, but did call two witnesses:

• Kay Bowser, the owner of a Clearfield County metal company, testified that Kahle once or twice a year brought over quantities of cans and glass. Hindman made that point as a way to explain why a dozen or more empty metal cans were found at Kahle’s home.

• Explosives expert and former state trooper David Balash of Canton, Mich., said the well-made, prefab sticks – widespread though illegal – were not bombs. Outside court, he questioned why Kahle was being “singled out” for prosecution.

“They are not bombs. They are not IEDs. They are explosives. They are not explosive devices,” he testified, though the distinctions were muddied.

Back to intent

Under cross-examination by Picking, Balash said what an object is can be determined by its intent. In other words, it would be a weapon if it’s “intended for an illegal purpose.”

Balash said the sticks often are used for kicks.

“Not that I subscribe to it, but they seem to use these for entertainment value,” he testified.

“They like to hear that big bang.”

He said such M1000s make “a big spray” when set off in water.

To questioning from Hindman, Balash said a stick could blow off someone’s hand.

“You’d be severely injured,” he said. “They’re catastrophic in nature.”

Kahle was investigated as part of a 2005-08 probe into militia groups by the Pittsburgh Joint Terrorism Task Force. He was arrested in June 2008 following a raid on his home after undercover troopers had befriended him and saw what he had in his upstairs gun room.

Four others were arrested on weapons violations and all were convicted.

If convicted, Kahle would have faced a prison sentence of about three years, under sentencing guidelines.

According to The Associated Press, FBI Special Agent Daniel Yocca testified that the task force “began an initiative to target militias and individuals in those militias with a propensity for violence, especially toward our government and elected officials.”