Prosecutors, defense present closing arguments in Arkansas doctor’s bombing trial

By Jill Zeman Bleed, AP
Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Closing arguments made in Ark. bombing trial

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. — A doctor sanctioned by the state medical board for over-prescribing painkillers who also collected military-grade weaponry exacted revenge on the board chairman by orchestrating a bombing that nearly killed him, prosecutors said Wednesday during their closing arguments in the doctor’s trial.

Attorneys for Dr. Randeep Mann told jurors that the prosecution’s case was flimsy and that investigators targeted the wrong person because of his race and love of weapons collecting. The arguments continued into Wednesday evening and the jury was expected to begin its deliberations Thursday morning.

Mann, a family physician and federal firearms dealer, is charged with one count of using a weapon of mass destruction and one count of destroying a vehicle with an explosive in the February 2009 bombing that nearly killed Dr. Trent Pierce. If convicted of the most serious charge he faces, the weapons of mass destruction charge, Mann could be sentenced to up to life in prison.

Prosecutors admit they have no forensic evidence connecting Mann to the bomb scene, nor can they prove that he planted the explosive — made from a hand grenade duct-taped to a spare tire — in Pierce’s driveway in West Memphis.

“Trent Pierce told you it’s by the grace of God that he’s here today,” prosecutor Karen Whatley told jurors. “And that is true because Randeep Mann wanted him dead. He should be dead.”

Pierce led the panel that sanctioned Mann after complaints that he was over-prescribing pain pills to known drug addicts. The board revoked Mann’s right to prescribe narcotics after complaints that 10 of his patients overdosed and died. At the time of the bombing, the board was investigating whether Mann was continuing to prescribe controlled substances, despite the revocation of his Drug Enforcement Agency permit to do so.

Pierce, whose face is still marked by flecks of tire embedded in the skin, sat in the front row of the courthouse gallery, the area closest to the jury. He handed his wife his handkerchief as she sobbed as the bombing was described.

Mann “singled out Dr. Pierce. The animosity was directed on Dr. Pierce,” Whatley said. “No one else had an arsenal like Randeep Mann with access to weapons.”

Whatley said several things linked Mann to the bombing, including an e-mail Mann sent to his brother in India with the subject line “Pierce” and a photograph of the doctor, with the text, “I hope this picture is good.” She pointed out that the bomb was made from a spare tire from a 2002 Nissan Altima, and said a friend and business partner of Mann’s had an Altima and that the spare was missing when ATF agents executed a search warrant.

She also noted testimony from a friend of Mann’s, who told jurors that the doctor repeatedly said that members of the medical board needed to suffer like he suffered.

Mann’s attorneys told jurors that the case is circumstantial at best and that there’s no solid evidence that proves Mann planned the bombing. Mann also faces charges of illegally possessing 98 grenades, a machine gun and a shotgun, and he and his wife face obstruction of justice charges.

Defense attorney Blake Hendrix sought to discount testimony from Lloyd Hahn, a weapons dealer who testified that he sold Mann a grenade similar to the one used in the Pierce bombing. He said Hahn admitted to several weapons violations and that he’d received immunity from prosecutors for testifying.

“Lloyd Hahn is simply currying favor with the ATF so he doesn’t spend the rest of his life in jail,” Hendrix said.

Mann emigrated to the United States from India in the 1980s and is now a naturalized citizen. Hendrix said he was unpopular in Pope County because of his race, his million-dollar gun collection and his large car collection.

“They picked the Indian guy with the guns,” Hendrix said. “Otherwise, the proof simply lacks in this case … It simply is the proverbial house of cards that cannot stand.”

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