Federal prosecutors look to keep witnesses secret in Colonial Williamsburg bombing case

Staff Writer

After prosecutors filed additional federal charges against the man accused of detonating a pipe bomb in Colonial Williamsburg in November, they requested 30 blank subpoenas to keep the names of witnesses in the case secret.

In two filings in U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia on Dec. 28 and Jan. 3, federal prosecutors submitted requests to the clerk of the federal court for blank subpoenas in the case, according to federal court records.

On Nov. 15, federal prosecutors filed additional criminal charges against Stephen Powers, who is accused of detonating the bomb.

Powers, 31, of Gloucester County, has been charged with detonating a pipe bomb in Merchants Square on Oct. 19, 2017. There were no reported injuries. The formal criminal charges are two counts of possession of an unregistered destructive device and one count of lying to a federal agent.

Two days before those charges were filed, a federal judge signed an order that indicated Powers had told the court he wanted to plead guilty to the charge of possession of an unregistered destructive device.

As the case against Powers progresses, prosecutors are prepared to call forward witnesses, according to federal court filings.

Blank subpoenas are typically requested by prosecutors or defense attorneys to conceal the identity of any witnesses that will be called to trial, according to College of William and Mary professor and former U.S. Magistrate Judge Tommy Miller.

Miller, who served in the Eastern District of Virginia as both a magistrate and a prosecutor, said the practice can also be used to bring documents or other related evidence to the courtroom.

“The use of blank subpoenas is a normal practice for both the prosecutors and defense counsel in U.S. District Court,” Miller wrote in an email.

A spokesman for the Department of Justice did not return a request for comment.

Powers was as a maintenance worker at Colonial Williamsburg for at least two years prior to the incident, according to Virginia Gazette archives. Law enforcement officers arrested Powers at his home in Gloucester County on Oct. 20, 2017.

Since the bombing, Powers’ wife has indicated he is not welcome at her residence and she is “extremely afraid of him,” according to an order of detention filed by a magistrate judge.

The Williamsburg-James City County Commonwealth’s Attorney’s office declined to prosecute Powers in May 2018 after a federal grand jury indicted him for possession of an unregistered destructive device, according to local and federal court records.

Powers is expected to go before a judge in United States District Court in Norfolk at 10 a.m. Jan. 23, according to federal court records.

Roberts can be reached at 757-604-1329, by email at srobertsjr@vagazette.com and on Twitter @SPRobertsJr.

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