The Joplin Globe, Joplin, MO

Crime & Courts

May 14, 2013

Miami bomb threat defendant granted probation

MIAMI, Okla. — A federal judge granted probation Tuesday to a defendant who created a bomb scare at Miami High School on Sept. 11 of last year in an apparent attempt to extort money from a local bank.

At a sentencing hearing in U.S. District Court in Tulsa, Chief Judge Gregory Frizzell ordered that Bobby Ray Harris, 26, serve eight months of home detention and five years on probation on a conviction for willfully making a threat.

Harris pleaded guilty to the charge in February in a plea agreement that dismissed a second count, which accused him of attempting to extort bank money.

Harris, an Army veteran of two tours in Iraq between 2005 and 2009, was arrested on the charges shortly after calling in a bomb threat to the 911 dispatch center in Miami and allegedly following it up with two calls to the Welch State Bank in Miami, demanding large sums of money and threatening to blow up the school if the bank did not comply.

The call to the dispatch center was made on a cellphone at 11:19 a.m. The caller told the dispatcher: “Bomb. Twenty minutes to find it in Miami High School.”

The threat led to an evacuation of the school and the summoning of bomb squads from the Oklahoma Highway Patrol and Tulsa Police Department.

While that was taking place, police tracked the cellphone call to an area behind a Catholic church next to the Welch State Bank on North Main Street in Miami. In the meantime, the suspect is believed to have walked to the Walmart store a block away, where he placed the calls to the bank about noon from a pay phone.

Harris was spotted by police and arrested minutes later. No bomb was located, and he failed to get any money from the bank. Harris reportedly told police that he came up with the idea of trying to force the bank to pay him not to blow up the school because he was unemployed and had fallen behind on child support payments.

The defendant faced up to 10 years in prison and a fine up to $250,000 on the conviction for willfully making a threat. Due to a lack of criminal history and other factors, a pre-sentence report calculated his recommended imprisonment period by federal sentencing guidelines at 15 to 21 months.

His federal public defender, William Widell, asked the court to consider a more lenient sentence due to the post-traumatic stress disorder that Harris has suffered as a consequence of his service in Iraq and the strides he has made toward rehabilitation during pre-trial release. Court documents state that he has been receiving both substance abuse and mental health treatment while residing in a halfway house environment.

Community service

Besides a period of home detention, a federal judge is requiring that Bobby Ray Harris also complete 80 hours of community service.

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