WILLIAMSBURG, Va. (WAVY) — A man accused of setting off a pipe bomb in Williamsburg last October said he was threatened with a Hebrew demon before the explosion, and tried to hire a hit man to kill his wife from jail, according to a federal prosecutor.
30-year-old Stephen Powers is charged with possessing an unregistered destructive device in the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia. Powers pleaded not guilty to the federal charge on Tuesday afternoon, and was denied bond.
He is scheduled to appear before a jury for trial on Nov. 14 in Newport News.
During the hearing, Assistant U.S. Attorney Eric Hurt said the explosion happened on Oct. 19, 2017, at dusk in a parking lot near Berret’s Seafood Restaurant and Taphouse Grill. Hurt called the weekend one of the “busiest” of the year, adding that the pipe bomb was detonated near the College of William and Mary where students were celebrating parent’s weekend.
Powers allegedly created the pipe bomb out of a metal cylinder with screw-in caps on each side, Hurt said. Powers’ allegedly drilled a hole into one of the caps and put stripped electrical cord into the pipe, along with “smokeless powder.”
He fitted a model rocket engine to one end of the pipe, Hurt said.
The parking lot where the explosion happened has trees with lights strung through them. The lights come on via a timer at dusk. Powers allegedly buried the pipe bomb in front of a parking space and plugged the electrical cord into the tree timing system so it would explode when the lights came on.
And it did.
Hurt said the force of the explosion was so strong that it sent portions of the pipe bomb flying over the roof of Berret’s and onto a nearby road. Other portions flew over a fence.
A few days before the explosion, people noticed an unusual odor and smoke coming from the underground workshop where Powers had previously been employed as a maintenance worker with Colonial Williamsburg.
Powers was arrested on Oct. 20, 2016, and sent to the Virginia Peninsula Regional Jail.
The investigation into him revealed that days before the explosion Powers claimed that letters were posted at his Gloucester home and his work. The letters threatened him with an old Hebrew demon that would “wreck some sort of havoc” on him, Hurt said.
Authorities searched Powers’ Hayes home twice.
Records showed that Powers bought about four pounds of smokeless black powder at Bass Pro Shop using a credit card he claimed to have lost. Police found the credit card in his home during a search, Hurt said.
He allegedly bought other supplies for the pipe bomb at Lowe’s using cash. Surveillance footage showed a man who appeared to be Powers shopping in both locations with a child who resembled his son.
While in jail, Powers reportedly told his cell mate that he’d stored the materials for three more pipe bombs in his attic. His cell mate told police, who searched the house and found the parts exactly where Powers said they would be, Hurt said.
From jail, Powers also allegedly tried to recruit someone to kill his wife.
Powers gave his cell mate letters in which he tried to hire someone to kill his wife for $500. The letters also allegedly referenced the same demon he claimed to have been threatened with before the explosion, Hurt said.
Powers’ mental health was evaluated by a state expert. The expert told authorities that they believed Powers was “malingering,” or exaggerating symptoms of mental illness. Hurt said that the expert added that they couldn’t “overstate” how much they believed Powers was making up the story about the demon who was “eating his memories.”
Powers’ mother and father were in court Tuesday. During the determination hearing, Power’s attorney, Keither Kimball, said that his parents visited him before the explosion in October and didn’t detect any signs of drug use or mental illness.
A federal judge ruled that Powers is a danger to the community and should continue to be incarcerated until his November trial.