Jury Convicts Anthrax Suspect On Firearms, Car Theft Charges

By JOHN NOLAN, Associated Press Writer

CINCINNATI (AP) - A man who admitted mailing fake anthrax letters to abortion clinics nationwide was convicted Thursday on firearms and car theft charges.

A U.S. District Court jury deliberated about 40 minutes before finding Clayton Lee Waagner guilty of all six charges. Because Waagner, 45, has been convicted of at least three prior violent crimes, federal authorities say he could get a life sentence.

Waagner, who is not an attorney, defended himself in the case.

He said he will appeal. Sentencing was not scheduled.

Federal authorities have said Waagner, of Kennerdell, Pa., could be taken next to Philadelphia for questioning in whether he sent at least 550 threatening letters to abortion clinics around the country last fall. Waagner admitted during this trial that he sent the letters.

Waagner (pictured, above) was arrested on Dec. 5 in suburban Springdale. He had been one of the FBI's most wanted fugitives after he escaped 10 months earlier from a jail in Illinois, where he had been awaiting sentencing on separate federal charges.

Waagner, who admitted in his closing statements that he stole a handgun, did not react when the verdict was read and said he was not surprised.

"I expected it," he said.

Waagner told the jury in his closing statements Thursday morning that he believed the government prosecuted him on firearms and car theft charges to cover up its opposition of what he has called his war on the abortion industry.

During the trial, the jury heard tapes of the FBI interviewing Waagner and a taped interview with an anti-abortion activist. On the tapes, Waagner threatened to kill abortion providers and said he mailed fake anthrax letters to abortion clinics because he wanted to shut them down.

Waagner told Judge Susan Dlott he wanted the tapes played in court so he could cross-examine an FBI agent.

Kelly Johnson, a public defender who served as Waagner's legal adviser, said the tapes gave Waagner "an opportunity to tell his side of the story."

Dlott allowed the tapes to be played, even though Robert Behlen, an assistant U.S. attorney, said the tapes were not relevant to the case.

Waagner called no witnesses during the trial after Dlott wouldn't let him put on the defense he wanted. Waagner wanted 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, Johnson said.

The judge ruled that Waagner did not present enough justification for using the so-called "necessity" defense, he said.

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