Mound of evidence delays arson suspects hearing

So massive is the volume of evidence against suspects in last June's Sacramento-area synagogue arsons that a federal judge has granted a delay of several weeks so lawyers can sift through it.

Originally, dates for the arson trial of James Tyler Williams, 30, and Benjamin Matthew Williams, 31, were to have been set at a U.S. District Court hearing in Sacramento last Friday. But Judge Garland E. Burrell Jr. has postponed the hearing until May 19.

The brothers have been charged with 13 arson-related counts in the June 18 torching of three synagogues and the June 25 attack on a Sacramento-area abortion clinic.

The hearing's delay will impinge upon the brothers' pending murder trial in Shasta County. They have been charged with the July 1 slaying of a Redding-area gay couple. Shasta County Superior Court Judge James Ruggeiro has agreed to wait until May 1 to make decisions about that trial.

Defense attorneys for the brothers did not return phone calls by press time.

But Patty Pontello, spokesperson for the U.S. Attorney's Office, said it is likely the defense team requested the delay.

"By the time we indict, we are pretty familiar with the evidence," she said. "The defense has to catch up."

In all, there are some 4,500 pages of documents.

Benjamin Matthew Williams has already announced in media interviews that he shot the men to death because they were gay. He also has claimed culpability in the synagogue arsons. Both acts were prompted by religious beliefs, he has said.

However, both brothers entered innocent pleas at a hearing before a U.S. District Court magistrate on April 4.

The pool of evidence against the brothers includes:

*Two large cartons of racist fliers and materials from various hate groups.

*A conversation taped at the Shasta County Jail on July 8 between Benjamin Matthew Williams and his mother, Sally. In it, he claims he is compelled to "obey God's law, not man's law."

*A letter from Benjamin Matthew Williams to a bank services employee who had been handling his credit card application. It allegedly read: "My brother James and I have been captured by occupational storm troopers while on a supply trip to Yuba City. Now we are incarcerated for our religious beliefs."

*A list of people related to the three synagogues and the aftermath of the arsons, including Jewish Bulletin editor and publisher Marc S. Klein.

*A stockpile of automatic and semi-automatic weapons.

*The results of lab tests done on items seized by police on a search of the elder Williams' home and evidence at the scene of each fire. The evidence includes flakes of paint found on a crowbar allegedly used to pry open a door at the abortion clinic. The flakes reportedly match the paint on a doorjamb at one of the synagogues.

Rebecca Rosen Lum

Rebecca Rosen Lum is a freelance writer.