After about 30 minutes of deliberation, Tuesday, a federal jury in Marshall found Thomas Asa Harbarger guilty of knowingly possessing a destructive device — an improvised explosive bomb — which was not registered to him in the National Firearms Registration and Transfer Record.
The 57-year-old defendant was found to be in possession of the homemade bomb on Aug. 2, 2019, in Cass County.
According to prosecutors representing the United States in the case, Department of Public Safety troopers found Harbarger in possession of what looked like a pipe bomb during a search of his vehicle.
Harbarger pleaded not guilty, contending that he wasn’t aware that the homemade bomb was illegal and that an unidentified person manufactured it for him for the purpose of blowing up a beaver dam.
“I thought it was a flashbang … an M-80 or M-100, (like) back when we were kids. That was the thing,” the defendant told the jury during the trial. “To me, an M-80 or M-100 is a firecracker.”
“All it did was burp. It was just a big bubble that came out of the water, like someone farted under water,” Harbarger told jurors, stressing that it wasn’t explosive.
The jury trial kicked off on Monday at the Sam B. Hall Jr. Federal Building and United States Courthouse with U.S. District Chief Judge Rodney Gilstrap presiding. The trial concluded on Tuesday with closing arguments and the jury verdict.
During the trial, DPS Sgt. Wayne Johnson told jurors that he was patrolling the Atlanta area the day in question, about 10:40 p.m., when he encountered what appeared to be a broken down pickup truck on the northbound side of State Highway 43, with the driver possibly in need of assistance.
Harbarger, who was later identified as the driver, maintained that the vehicle wasn’t stolen, and told the officer that he had bought the truck from someone, but was behind on the payments.
Sgt. Johnson said when he attempted to gain more information about Harbarger, the defendant first falsely identified himself and subsequently lied about his age, telling the officer that he was born in 1980.
Johnson said Harbarger further claimed that he didn’t have an ID. He also told the officer he couldn’t remember his Social Security number and that he didn’t have a cell phone.
The state trooper said he ended up detaining Harbarger while DPS Corporal David Stewart arrived on the scene to assist him.
Upon a search of Harbarger’s truck, Corporal Stewart ultimately found a wallet, containing the true identification of Harbarger. The wallet consisted of two Texas Department of Criminal Justice identification cards, revealing the defendant’s age and date of birth as Aug. 28, 1963.
After running his information through the system, Trooper Johnson discovered that Harbarger had a parole violation warrant, out of Austin as well as out of Dallas County.
Upon a further search of the vehicle, Corporal Stewart saw what appeared to be a pipe bomb with a fuse, located in the driver’s side door panel pocket.
Agents with the ATF (Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives) also testified during the case, commenting on the composition of the destructive device.
The agents told jurors that a burn test of the black colored powder was performed and the powder burned “vigorously”.
FTA Explosives Enforcement Officer Gary Smith also testified during trial, explaining that he disassembled and examined the device and confirmed that it met the definition of a destructive device, according to statute.
Describing the device, he said the bamboo tube was about eight inches long. It boasted metal caps on each side that were fused in place, a plastic bottle cap to seal the end, and two pennies on the opposite side of the fuse end. It was completely filled with black colored powder.
“It performed as we assumed it would, a very energetic burn,” said Smith.
Harbarger said it was never his intent to hurt anyone or damage any property.
Sentencing for Harbarger is currently pending, following Tuesday’s verdict. In preparation of the sentencing hearing, a pre-sentencing investigation report will be prepared by the US Probation Department to be presented for consideration to the presiding judge.
Harbarger is facing up to 10 years in prison for the conviction and a possible fine up to $250,000.
U.S. Attorney Jim Noble represented the government in the case. Attorney Jeffrey Harrelson represented the defendant.