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STEVENS CONVICTED IN FATAL BOMBINGS JURY RECOMMENDS LIFE IMPRISONMENT

A jury took just three hours Friday to convict Michael T. Stevens of targeting his girlfriend's family in Cheektowaga, West Valley and Rochester with a lethal wave of package bombs that killed five people.

Stevens, 54, was found guilty on all 16 counts, including conspiracy, transporting explosives with intent to kill, injure and intimidate, and damage property.

Sentencing was set for June 16. The jury recommended that Stevens face life sentences without parole on five counts.

Stevens showed no emotion as the verdict was read. But outside the courtroom, as Stevens was escorted by U.S. marshals to an undisclosed location, he proclaimed his innocence to reporters. "I'm totally innocent, and I expect to win my appeal," he said.

During the trial, Stevens' accused accomplice, Earl Figley, 57, testified that Stevens was the mastermind behind the bombing plot that killed his girlfriend's mother, sister, stepfather and two bystanders within an hour of one another on the evening of Dec. 28, 1993. Three other people were injured, two seriously.

Stevens, who lived with Brenda Chevere in the Rochester suburb of Victor, allegedly was angry with the relatives for encouraging Ms. Chevere to leave him and take their 2-year-old son, Noah.

One of the six bombs blew up in the face of Ms. Chevere's mother, Eleanor Fowler, 56, at her home in West Valley.

Another killed her stepfather, Robert Fowler, 38, and a co-worker, John O'Donnell, 23, of Angola, in a Cheektowaga armored-car depot.

Ms. Chevere's sister, Pamela Lazore Lanza, 32, and her boyfriend, Richard Urban, 42, died at their Rochester apartment.

Her half sister, Lucille Kemp, 27, of New Albion in Cattaraugus County, was spared when a wire attached to a detonator snapped.

"It's not the same as bringing them back. That's what I wish we really could do," Mrs. Kemp said after the verdict was read.

Her husband, Scott Kemp, then 29, who worked as a guard at the Lakeview
State Correctional Facility in Chautauqua County, also was spared injury because prison officials refused to accept the package, and police later detonated the bomb.

Jeff Camp, who was seriously injured by shrapnel from the bomb sent to the Cheektowaga armored-car depot, said he was happy with the verdict.

But he added that life in prison would not be sufficient punishment for Stevens.

"I think he should get the death penalty; I really do," Camp said. "Why should we pay to support him for the rest of his life, after all the pain he caused to people?"

Camp noted that Stevens' crime was no quick act of anger or passion. It took long and intricate planning to set up the bombings, he said.

"He knew exactly what he was doing, and I think he was setting Earl Figley up as the fall guy," Camp said. "He (Stevens) wanted to kill, and he didn't care who was in the line of fire."

U.S. Attorney Patrick H. NeMoyer expressed satisfaction with the verdict.

"We are satisfied with the job that we've done," NeMoyer said. ". . . We expect this man to spend the rest of his life in jail."

NeMoyer had initially indicated that the killings merited the death penalty, but the U.S. Justice Department said federal death-penalty laws did not apply to the case.

He noted that constitutional problems with the federal death-penalty law on the books in 1993 have been rectified by the 1994 federal anti-crime bill. The case, however, would have fallen under the old law because the crimes were committed in 1993.

The government called 72 witnesses during 3 1/2 weeks of testimony; the defense called none.

The defense argued that Figley, the key prosecution witness, acted alone in building the bombs and delivering them. Figley pleaded guilty in February and agreed to testify in exchange for a 20-year prison sentence.

Prosecutors said Stevens had Figley carry out much of the dirty work -- from buying dynamite in Kentucky using a phony Vermont driver's permit to stealing shrapnel from a dumpster -- to insulate himself from blame.

All the motivation and the planning, including designing and building the booby-trap bombs using how-to manuals, came from Stevens, prosecutor Frank Sherman said. He was angry at Ms. Chevere's American Indian family for excluding him and afraid that she would vanish with their son, Sherman said.

"Earl Figley was the ultimate patsy," he said, depicting a master-servant relationship of two loners with troubled pasts.

In contrast, defense attorney William Easton Jr. described Figley, a former science teacher who lost a fist-sized chunk of his brain in a 1958 car crash, as intelligent and conniving.

Easton suggested that Figley's 1971 divorce left him "deeply wounded and embittered" and that when Ms. Chevere moved in with Stevens in 1990, forcing him to live elsewhere, his anger focused on how to remove her.

"Something went wrong in Earl Figley's mind. . . . He went mad," Easton said. "Figley cannot be trusted. It's obvious you cannot convict a man based on his testimony."

Stevens, in contrast to his disruptive behavior at a 1987 trial for running a coupon-advertising scam, spent much of the trial hunched at the defense table, scribbling notes and occasionally whispering loudly to his two attorneys.

But before giving instructions to the jury, U.S. District Judge Michael Telesca had to admonish him when he blurted out, "Could I say one thing? It's vitally important!"

"Unless you can keep quiet," the judge replied, "I'll have you removed."

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