Was the San Francisco political consultant who allegedly had a bomb in his apartment and attempted to purchase lethal toxins online aiming to harm others, or was he just a depressed man and no danger to anyone but himself?
Such was the tenor of a Monday morning hearing in federal court in connection with the case of Ryan Kelly Chamberlain II, who this month was charged with possessing a homemade explosive device and a loaded .22-caliber Derringer pistol with its serial number scratched off.
Judge Nathanael Cousins of the U.S. District Court in San Francisco denied defense requests for the release of Chamberlain on bail, and Chamberlain pleaded not guilty to the two felony charges.
The hearing also revealed new details in the case.
Those revelations included the fact that the FBI found in Chamberlain's apartment castor beans, the raw material necessary to make the lethal toxin ricin, and that he had a will on him when he was arrested.
“A quantity of castor beans were seized,” federal prosecutor Philip Kearney said.
Because of these discoveries, and the homemade bomb, the government argued that Chamberlain's intentions were clear: He meant to harm others, not kill himself.
The ricin and other toxins, Kearney said, have little use “other than to kill human beings.”
Similarly, the explosive device, Kearney said, does not “appear to be a device intended for suicide. … It would be a messy, very painful way to die.”
Still, the prosecutor contradicted himself when he said Chamberlain's goodbye letter, posted online the day after his arrest warrant was issued, could be interpreted as a “suicide note.”
The government has also analyzed Chamberlain's iPhone and iPod and found he had used search terms ranging from WMD, ricin, chloroform, homicide and killing to blasting, explosives, bomb and Uncle Fester, the author of a manual describing how to use poisons.
Chamberlain's federal public defender, Jodi Linker, called the government's characterization of her client's mental state and motives as “all over the map,” pointing out that a crime must be committed before someone can be charged and jailed.
“In this country, we don't send people to jail based on searches on their computer,” Linker said.
Further, she said, Chamberlain had items shipped to him last June and December that included lethal toxins, but “nothing happened. … We have no evidence of any intention to in fact do harm to anyone.”
Linker, who has asked for a physiological evaluation of her client and believes he only posed a threat to himself, pointed out that Chamberlain has never threatened to harm anyone but himself.
“A person comes by every couple of days and asks if he's gonna kill himself,” she said of Chamberlain's suicide watch in jail.
Linker also took issue with the fact that the government has destroyed the very bomb it alleges her client made and could have used.
The bomb reportedly discovered by the FBI — and a green powder that Kearney said tests revealed to be “pyrotechnic materials” — have been destroyed.
“I'm not in a position to say what exactly was there,” Linker said. “It was destroyed, so it's difficult to know.”