Bomb thrower per­suades jury

At­tempted homi­cide trial ends with con­vic­tion on lesser charges

The Morning Call - - FRONT PAGE - By Ri­ley Yates

An Eas­ton man who threw Molo­tov cock­tails at po­lice of­fi­cers was ac­quit­ted Thurs­day of at­tempted murder in a mixed ver­dict af­ter a trial in which he in­sisted he was sui­ci­dal and in­tended to harm no one but him­self.

Though he was found not guilty of the most se­ri­ous charges, Jef­frey S. Folkner was con­victed of a slew of lesser crimes, in­clud­ing four counts of ag­gra­vated as­sault. He’ll still face po­ten­tially years, if not decades, in prison when he is sen­tenced in De­cem­ber.

The jury de­liv­ered its de­ci­sion af­ter two hours of de­lib­er­a­tions in a case that il­lus­trated just how quickly po­lice stand­offs can turn to vi­o­lence.

Po­lice called to the West Ward for a do­mes­tic dis­pute last year were soon greeted with a chaotic and fiery scene, as Folkner threw fire­bombs at of­fi­cers, nar­rowly miss­ing them and set­ting a neigh­bor­ing business on fire.

The charges for which Folkner was found guilty also in­cluded ar­son, risk­ing a catas­tro­phe, pos­sess­ing in­cen­di­ary de­vices and crim­i­nal mis­chief. Many of them were con­ceded to the jury by Folkner’s at­tor­ney, who cast his client as a des­per­ate man who was only try­ing to pro­voke po­lice to kill him.

“I’m happy with the ver­dict,” de­fense lawyer James Connell said. “I think the jury did what they’re sup­posed to do. I don’t think Mr. Folkner in­tended to kill any­body.”

The at­tempted murder charges re­lated to the first fire­bomb that Folkner threw, which ex­ploded next to Sgt. Ryan Celia and Of­fi­cer Eric Siegfried. Both men tes­ti­fied they had never been so scared, though they man­aged to es­cape in­jury.

Re­act­ing to the ver­dict, Celia said it was “ob­vi­ously dis­ap­point­ing,” but that “is what it is.”

“Ob­vi­ously, we’re dis­ap­pointed with the ver­dict on the at­tempted homi­cides. But there’s enough po­ten­tial sen­tenc­ing power for the court to keep this de­fen­dant in jail for 20 years, or po­ten­tially longer.” — As­sis­tant Dis­trict At­tor­ney Ed­ward Pene­tar

“You trust the jury to make the right de­ci­sion and whether it is in your fa­vor or not in your fa­vor, you have to go with it,” Celia said.

The ag­gra­vated as­sault charges re­lated to Folkner’s third and fi­nal bomb, which ex­ploded near four other of­fi­cers: Eric Camp­bell, Diego San­ti­ago, Brian Con­naughton and In­spec­tor Daniel Rea­gan.

“I’ve never seen any­thing like it be­fore,” Rea­gan, a long­time mem­ber of the force, told the jury on Tues­day. “It was just a rolling ball of fire.”

The mixed ver­dict ap­peared to hinge on the ques­tion of Folkner’s in­tent. For at­tempted murder, pros­e­cu­tors had to prove that he aimed to kill. For ag­gra­vated as­sault, they had to show only that he meant se­ri­ous harm.

“Ob­vi­ously, we’re dis­ap­pointed with the ver­dict on the at­tempted homi­cides,” As­sis­tant Dis­trict At­tor­ney Ed­ward Pene­tar said. “But there’s enough po­ten­tial sen­tenc­ing power for the court to keep this de­fen­dant in jail for 20 years, or po­ten­tially longer.”

With the al­leged at­tack on Celia and Siegfried, pros­e­cu­tors did not pur­sue ag­gra­vated as­sault charges. That left the jury with two op­tions: ei­ther to con­vict Folkner of the pair’s at­tempted murder, or to ac­quit him al­to­gether of of­fenses in­volv­ing them. Of­ten authoritie­s will file both sets of charges as a stop­gap in case ju­rors wa­ver.

Pene­tar said he stands by the de­ci­sion to fo­cus on at­tempted murder alone.

“We think that was the ap­pro­pri­ate charge,” Pene­tar said. “We don’t sec­ond guess that de­ci­sion at all.”

On July 18, 2018, po­lice were called to the home af­ter Folkner hit his sis­ter’s boyfriend with a base­ball bat dur­ing an ar­gu­ment, ac­cord­ing to tes­ti­mony. Dur­ing the twohour scare, po­lice re­peat­edly tried to take Folkner into cus­tody, know­ing he had a gun that he fired twice while holed up at the ad­dress on the 600 block of Pearl Street.

On the wit­ness stand Wed­nes­day, Folkner ad­mit­ted toss­ing the makeshift ex­plo­sives that night, which he fash­ioned us­ing beer bot­tles, gaso­line and pa­per tow­els as a wick.

But Folkner said he did so ex­pect­ing of­fi­cers would rush through the door and end his life — a step, he told ju­rors, he was un­able to take on his own. Connell cast his client as a “big oaf ” and a “sad sack” who had sui­cide, and not homi­cide, on his mind.

At the end of the standoff, Folkner left the home with a ma­chete, giv­ing po­lice the mid­dle fin­ger as he walked to­ward them while smok­ing a cig­a­rette. Video recorded by an on­looker cap­tured of­fi­cers yelling, “Put it down! Put it down!” as Folkner ig­nored their com­mands.

While Pene­tar agreed Folkner was at­tempt­ing “sui­cide by cop” in those mo­ments, he said Folkner did so only to es­cape the con­se­quences of his at­tack on po­lice. Pene­tar praised the of­fi­cers’ re­straint, say­ing they used a stun gun to sub­due Folkner when they eas­ily could have killed him.

Over two days of tes­ti­mony, Pene­tar ar­gued Folkner’s ac­tions proved he was me­thod­i­cally try­ing to harm po­lice.

Pene­tar high­lighted that Folkner dodged in and out of his house as he threw the fire­bombs, ac­tions the pros­e­cu­tor said be­lied some­one hop­ing of­fi­cers would shoot him. Pene­tar also un­der­scored Folkner’s pro­fan­ity-laced com­ments about po­lice im­me­di­ately af­ter his ar­rest, when Folkner was recorded say­ing, “I should have [ex­ple­tive] killed them.”

Pros­e­cu­tors also charged that from jail, Folkner took steps to cover up his cul­pa­bil­ity, in­clud­ing by act­ing as though he was crazy while on recorded phone calls with his fa­ther.

Folkner will be sen­tenced Dec. 10 by Judge Craig Dally.

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