SPRINGFIELD — A judge on Tuesday denied a motion by alleged attempted arsonist John Michael Rathbun to dismiss charges against him.
Rathbun, 36, of East Longmeadow, has been held without the right to bail since shortly after his arrest in April. He was charged with allegedly trying to torch a Jewish elder care campus in Longmeadow with a gas can stuffed with a Christian faith pamphlet and set on fire.
A neighbor of the Ruth’s House elder program on Converse Street spotted the canister on April 2 and called police and fire officials, according to court records. The alleged homemade Molotov cocktail flamed out before it could do any damage, prosecutors said. No one was injured. But, Rathbun’s DNA was gleaned from bloody fingerprints on the canister and the pamphlet, according to investigators.
FBI agents drew a correlation between the gas can with Rathbun’s DNA on it, and a white supremacist online chat room which designated the day after “Jew Killing Day.” However, they never directly linked Rathbun to that platform, nor did they turn up any other ties to white supremacy groups, attorneys on both side of the case say.
Timothy Watkins, a court-appointed public defender for Rathbun, says they never will.
“The government has investigated every nook and cranny of Mr. Rathbun’s life and has failed,” to unearth any links to white supremacist groups, Watkins said during a pretrial hearing on Tuesday. “We are no longer at the ‘not yet’ stage.”
Watkins has previously argued Rathbun has an “ironclad alibi” proving he could not have placed the gas container at the foot of the driveway at Ruth’s House that morning.
Federal prosecutors have conceded in court records that the government has thus far found evidence of those relationships, but told U.S. District Judge Mark Mastroianni the FBI recently discovered three additional cell phones Rathbun may have used which were never turned over to the government as potential evidence.
Rathbun previously told federal agents he used the internet only to job search, troll porn sites and using dating apps.
“He never told investigators he had dozens of Facebook alias accounts,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Steven Breslow told Mastroianni.
In an argument to dismiss a grand jury indictment against his client, Watkins told Mastroianni:
“This seems to be a case where the government indicted first and decided to investigate later.”
The judge denied the motion to dismiss and similarly rebuffed a motion to free Rathbun from jail pending trial.
A trial is tentatively scheduled for early November. Mastroianni explored whether attorneys may be ready to try the case as early as next month.
Breslow told the judge that, given the new electronic devices agents have yet to explore, out-of-state attorneys and witnesses plus elderly local witnesses are at risk to contract or spread COVID-19. In fact, Breslow’s co-counsel from the U.S. Department of Justice Civil Rights Division recently concluded a trial in Kentucky. Prosecutors, court security officers and U.S. Marshals contracted the virus themselves.
“Some are still recovering,” Breslow said.
Jury trials at federal courthouses across Massachusetts are scheduled to resume next month under tight controls.
Rathbun’s has been tentatively set to start on Nov. 9, according to the court docket.