A Marshall man, who was found guilty in November to possession of an unregistered destructive device — a homemade explosive bomb, has been sentenced to 72 months in federal prison for the crime.
The defendant, 57-year-old Thomas Asa Harbarger, was sentenced on Wednesday by U.S. District Judge Rodney Gilstrap.
“We are proud to work with our state and local partners to protect the public and ensure the safety of our community,” Acting U.S. Attorney Nicholas J. Ganjei said in a statement.
“Thanks to the diligence and quick thinking of the Texas State Trooper in this case, a dangerous criminal is off the street,” he said.
A federal jury, in November, found 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.
Harbarger 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.
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 during trial.
The ATF concluded through their investigation that the pipe bomb was capable of causing injury or death to a person.
Harbarger’s case was prosecuted as part of the Project Safe Neighborhoods Initiative, which is aimed at reducing gun and gang violence; deterring illegal possession of guns, ammunition, and body armor; and improving the safety of residents in the Eastern District of Texas. According to Davilyn Walston, public affairs officer for the Eastern District of Texas, participants in the initiative include community members and organizations as well as federal, state, and local law enforcement agencies.
Harbarger faced up to 10 years in prison for the conviction and a possible fine up to $250,000.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Jim Noble represented the government in the case. Attorney Jeffrey Harrelson represented the defendant.