JDL member gets life term in bombing

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LOS ANGELES — A California court has sentenced to life in prison William Ross, who, together with the American-Israeli couple of Robert and Rochelle Manning, was charged in a 1980 mail-bomb killing.

The sentence closes a case that aroused strong emotions and protests among Orthodox and nationalist groups in Israel and Los Angeles and has dragged through the federal courts since 1988.

According to court testimony, Ross, a member of the Jewish Defense League, enlisted the Manning couple, also JDL members, during the 1970s to construct and mail a booby trap.

The bomb was destined for the owner of a local computer firm with whom Ross had a bitter business dispute. However, the package holding the device was opened by the firm's secretary, Patricia Wilkerson, who was killed instantly by the blast.

The Mannings came to Israel in the early 1980s and moved to the West Bank settlement of Kiryat Arba. They held dual U.S. and Israeli citizenship. Rochelle Manning returned to Los Angeles for a visit in 1988, was arrested on arrival and put on trial with Ross.

Both were released when the jury could not reach a verdict, and she returned to Israel. The United States then sought Robert Manning's extradition.

He fought a well-publicized legal battle for two years against extradition, but lost and was returned to Los Angeles to stand trial in 1993.

He was found guilty and sentenced in February 1994 to life imprisonment without possibility of parole for 30 years, and is jailed at a maximum-security prison in Florence, Colo.

Rochelle Manning also was reindicted, separate from her husband. Early last year the Israeli High Court of Justice rejected her final appeal to block extradition to the United States.

She was being held in an Israeli prison when the 54-year old woman suddenly died of heart attack in March 1994.

Ross, meanwhile, also was reindicted, but fled to Canada. He surrendered to authorities there and was returned to Los Angeles.

Three weeks ago, a federal jury found Ross, 58, guilty of ordering the mailing of the explosive device in 1980, though he claimed during the trial that his brother and late son were behind the murder plot.

Ross will be eligible for parole in 10 years.

Tom Tugend

JTA Los Angeles correspondent