Anthrax Suspect On Trial Compares Himself With Abolitionist

By JOHN NOLAN, Associated Press Writer

CINCINNATI (AP) - A man suspected of mailing fake anthrax letters to abortion clinics nationwide compared himself to a famous abolitionist Tuesday in opening statements of his trial on firearms and stolen-car charges.

Clayton Lee Waagner, 45, who is defending himself, made no mention of abortion in his opening statements in U.S. District Court and compared himself to the anti-slavery figure John Brown who used violence to get his point across.

Waagner (pictured, above) was one of the FBI's most wanted fugitives before his arrest at a copy shop in suburban Springdale on Dec. 5, about 10 months after he escaped from an Illinois jail. Authorities said that after Waagner escaped, he robbed banks, stole cars and threatened abortion providers.

"John Brown had a large reward on his head. So did I," Waagner said. "John Brown was considered to be a religious fanatic. I've heard that term; I don't appreciate it."

"Within months of his death, John Brown was considered not a religious fanatic but a man who ushered in a right cause ... parallels were there," Waagner said of Brown who was executed in 1859.

Federal prosecutor Robert Behlen objected to Waagner's statements about Brown, saying they were not relevant to this case. Judge Susan Dlott allowed Waagner to go ahead, saying she would give him some latitude.

Waagner, of Kennerdell, Pa., pleaded innocent in March to a six-count indictment charging him with illegally possessing a handgun and a rifle as a fugitive and as a convicted felon; possessing a stolen handgun; and possessing a stolen car.

Because Waagner has been convicted of at least three prior violent crimes, federal authorities say he could receive a life sentence.

In his opening statement, Behlen said Waagner violated federal law by taking the stolen handgun, rifle and car across state lines. He said Waagner admitted to police he had the weapons and showed them where they were.

"He told officers where (the handgun) was as he was being arrested," Behlen told the jury.

Behlen said Waagner told authorities he shoplifted the handgun from a gun shop in Pennsylvania. Behlen said investigators have not been able to determine how Waagner got the rifle.

Waagner, wearing a navy blue jacket with a tie and khaki slacks, hinted to the jury that he was not allowed to use the defense that he wanted.

"This is not a simple gun case. The government's going to say it is. There's a lot that is going to be said. There's a lot that can't be said. Use your common sense."

Dlott on Friday rejected Waagner's request to argue that if he committed any illegal acts, it was because they were necessary in his campaign to stop late-term abortions, which he views as a greater evil, said Kelly Johnson, a federal public defender advising Waagner.

Waagner once claimed he was on a mission from God to kill abortion providers.

The Cincinnati charges are separate from a government investigation into whether Waagner mailed more than 550 anthrax hoax letters to abortion clinics after his escape. He has not been charged in that case.

In media interviews, Waagner has said he did not intend violence but wanted to scare clinic operators with the hoaxes.

The federal government also has charged Waagner with bank robberies in Pennsylvania and West Virginia, a car theft in Mississippi and possession of a pipe bomb in Tennessee.

(Copyright 2002 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)