Why did a maintenance worker at Colonial Williamsburg detonate a pipe bomb in 2017 near his work?
No one seems to know. But prosecutors said Stephen James Powers might have been planning to kill his wife.
"One possible and reasonable inference is that the defendant was testing a device that he would later use to murder his wife," Assistant U.S. Attorney Eric Hurt wrote in court documents, noting that Powers later tried to hire a hit man in jail. "When confronted, he lied. When incarcerated, he made additional efforts to have his wife murdered."
Powers, who was cheating on his wife before the explosion, was sentenced Thursday to 10 years in federal prison.
Prosecutors argued he deserved 15 years. The defense wanted five. The maximum was 25.
Powers, 31, pleaded guilty in January to two counts of illegally possessing destructive devices and making a false statement to investigators.
According to court documents, Powers manufactured several bombs at his Gloucester home using pipes, smokeless gunpowder and extension cords. He then took one to work Oct. 19, 2017, and plugged it into strings of decorative white lights that adorned trees in a Merchants Square parking lot, located on the corner of Francis and South Boundary streets.
When the lights turned on at 5 p.m. that day, the bomb exploded. Pieces of metal were thrown up to 150 feet, but no one was injured.
Powers was a Colonial Williamsburg employee until September 2017 when he started working there as an independent contractor.
Local police were talking to Powers before the explosion. On Oct. 11, 2017, firefighters and security personnel responded to a report of a sulfur smell at the Colonial Williamsburg maintenance office. They didn’t find anything.
The next day, Powers told police he’d found a handwritten note on the office door that said, “I am sorry my device did not work last night. -D,” according to documents filed in state court.
Powers said he found a second note Oct. 14, 2017, on the door that mentioned “Adramelech.” He told police only people he had served with in Iraq would know the word, but investigators determined Powers never served there.
Powers also claimed to have received a third letter in his mailbox before the explosion.
Federal agents interviewed Powers on Oct. 20, 2017, and, with his permission, searched his home.
There, they found bomb making materials similar to those used in the bomb that exploded. A subsequent search of the attic revealed three containers of smokeless powder and more materials.
Following his arrest on state charges, Powers "sought the help of another inmate in hopes of murdering his wife," Hurt said.
He explained Powers gave the other inmate "letters and diagrams related to killing his wife," as well as the location of additional bombs.
The inmate provided the information to law enforcement.
Power's defense attorney said his client was a hard worker who saw his life unravel in the year leading up to the explosion. He was unhappy at work, depressed and began having an affair. He may have even started using drugs, although no evidence of narcotic use was actually recovered from his home.
"What I did was completely irresponsible and dangerous," Powers wrote in a letter to the court, lamenting the pain he had caused his wife and son.
He said he was attending Alcoholics Anonymous in jail, as well as drug counseling, anger management classes and Bible study in the hopes of bettering himself and finding his way back to God.
Like Hurt, Assistant Federal Public Defender Keith Kimball said he didn't know why Powers made and set off the bomb. He suggested his client was "acting in some sort of fantasy."
"A game," Kimball said in court. "A dangerous game."
Scott Daugherty, 757-446-2343, firstname.lastname@example.org