Michael C. O’Neill’s left leg has been amputated and he is getting rehabilitation therapy to learn how to get around after the explosion last week in his family’s Wheatfield garage.
O’Neill remains at Erie County Medical Center and is not under the supervision of the U.S. Marshals Service. His lawyer can freely visit him and his mother, a nurse, provides him with supplemental medical care. At this point, there is no special security detail watching over O’Neill.
That would change dramatically if a federal court detention order is issued next week. O’Neill then would be handcuffed to his bed and anytime he went for therapy, some type of shackle would be placed on him.
And that is why his defense attorney was in court Thursday, trying to stop the federal prosecutor’s efforts.
“He’s receiving pain medication and he is lethargic. He’s basically going nowhere,” said defense attorney Joseph M. LaTona, who wants O’Neill to retain his current patient status of being unimpeded “so his medical treatment can continue unencumbered by any unnecessary physical restraints.”
LaTona succeeded in delaying – for the time being – the detention hearing in front of U.S. Magistrate Judge Hugh B. Scott.
LaTona said placing O’Neill under the jurisdiction of the Marshals Service “would constitute cruel and unusual punishment” because his rehabilitation therapy would be diminished.
Scott delayed the hearing until Wednesday to give LaTona more time to prepare his case.
In laying the groundwork for bail with release conditions, LaTona told Scott that what O’Neill was doing in the garage last week did not amount to a violent crime.
“A biker wanted to sell 41 sticks of dynamite to a Cuban revolutionary and the U.S. 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals ruled dynamite has legitimate and illegitimate uses,” LaTona said.
O’Neill, 45, had told investigators, who found seven explosive devices in the Walmore Road garage July 21, that they were intended to be used to remove tree stumps.
But Assistant U.S. Attorney Frank T. Pimentel wasn’t buying that explanation or LaTona’s arguments and said that releasing O’Neill would threaten the community.
“We’re not talking about dynamite. We’re talking about an IED and shrapnel,” Pimentel said of the findings from agents of the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.
Following the court proceeding, U.S. Attorney William J. Hochul Jr., when asked, did not directly address the question of whether the improvised explosive devices were for tree stump removal.
“It is a crime in itself to possess explosives,” Hochul said, and repeated Pimentel’s point that shrapnel was found in one of the devices.
The property where the explosion occurred is owned by O’Neill’s stepfather, Niagara County Legislature Chairman William L. Ross, C-Wheatfield.