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Alleged Wheatfield bomb-maker pleads not guilty

The man charged with making explosive devices in a garage in the Town of Wheatfield was arraigned Monday in the hospital where he is recovering after a device detonated and severely injured a leg.

Michael C. O’Neill, 45, pleaded not guilty to possession of an unregistered destructive device, according to a spokeswoman for the U.S. Attorney William J. Hochul Jr.

O’Neill was to appear Monday morning before Magistrate Judge Hugh B. Scott, but the judge’s courtroom in downtown Buffalo remained locked and dark during the scheduled time.

A spokeswoman for the U.S. Attorney’s Office would not confirm where the arraignment took place.

O’Neill has been in Erie County Medical Center since July 21, when he suffered a “catastrophic injury” to a leg in an explosion in the detached garage on Walmore Road.

He was listed in good condition at the hospital Monday.

During his initial appearance before a judge, where the issue of bail is routinely considered, the U.S. Attorney’s Office requested that O’Neill be detained, the spokeswoman said.

The judge reserved decision on that request, pending a detention hearing scheduled for Thursday morning.

O’Neill has waived to right to attend that hearing.

“My client is incapacitated and hospitalized,” his attorney, Joseph M. LaTona, said Monday afternoon. “He has waived his right to be present.”

LaTona declined to comment further on the case.

According to investigators, O’Neill initially told them he was making explosives for tree stump removal.

O’Neill reportedly told investigators that last week’s explosion occurred while he was using extra materials from M80 explosives to make “something” and the device ignited while he was trying to seal it with a heat gun.

Investigators said O’Neill dropped the device to the garage floor and was trying to stomp it out when it exploded.

A search of the garage yielded seven improvised explosive devices – including one packed with shrapnel, authorities reported afterward.

Several other items related to making explosive devices also were found in the garage.

The Walmore Road property is owned by O’Neill’s stepfather, Niagara County Legislature Chairman William L. Ross, C-Wheatfield. O’Neill formerly worked as a corrections officer for Niagara County.

email: jhabuda@buffnews.com