Less than a month ago, several death- and injury-inducing package bombs cast a shadow over Austin’s first signs of spring. Ongoing global media coverage informed us that three devices had exploded on or near resident doorsteps; one was triggered by a trip-wire near a sidewalk; and a final two caused negligible harm at area FedEx facilities. Then, after the frenetic three-week hunt for a suspect, Austin police and federal collaborators cautiously closed in on 23-year-old suspect Mark Anthony Conditt, only to see him die by a self-inflicted explosion inside his own car.
Residents who are moving past last month’s experience are relieved that our laid-back city is no longer a target of breaking news, and Amazon Prime deliveries are again running on schedule. As expected, life goes on in this Lone Star city, with graduations and vacation plans thrown into the mix. Yet despite our Texas-tough ability to “get on with it”, many still long for a motive and meaning behind last month’s attacks. It appears that investigative evidence providing answers won’t see the light of day any time soon.
Last week, Federal officials released the affidavit document that was filed in court just days before Conditt’s death ended a massive manhunt. The affidavit – a sworn, written statement a law enforcement officer presents before a Federal judge–details evidence and activities linking Conditt to the bombing attacks. It indicates several similarities investigators identified among the devices, including delivery methods, construction, and detonation mechanisms. All six bombs also contained the jagged shrapnel that caused devastating injuries and fatalities.
In the wake of its release, this new document clarifies a little more of the “how”, but doesn’t remotely touch on a “why” that could make the tiniest bit of sense of last month’s gut-wrenching three weeks. Conditt’s 30-minute cell-phone confession – during which he called himself a “psychopath” – is hidden from public examination, along with the bountiful details a 500-man-strong task force compiled both during and after the bombing incidents.
Like the bombings themselves, the Conditt affidavit seems to have left Austinites with more questions than answers. Investigators still deny media records requests under the guise of “an ongoing investigation” that’s extending well past the alleged perpetrator’s death. Police officials who acknowledge the public’s push for information fear Condit’s personal musings would foster copy-cat criminals—a concern strongly supported by criminologists and social scientists. Since Texas law ultimately charges enforcement officials with the “if” and “when” decisions regarding investigative material, we can probably expect that Conditt’s recording and other case files will remain under wraps.
Despite current laws, some citizens are gearing up to fight for more information–and engaging legal back-up. Laura Prather, a First Amendment attorney and board member for the Freedom of Information Foundation of Texas, told the Austin-American Statesman that “the community at large was very involved…they were basically under siege for quite a long period of time. We believe that the public not only has the right to know that information but that it would…enable the public to have faith in their law enforcement instead of being left to speculation.”
The hunger to know the entire story and piece together the whole truth is what drives criminal defense attorneys and law enforcement alike. As a criminal defender, I struggle every day to obtain, review and analyze evidence of investigations by local, state and federal investigators. Many times their investigations and analysis are spot-on, but sometimes they get the wrong person, or misinterpret information that they believes points to a certain person or reveals a criminal motivation to that person’s actions. As a defender I strive to remain open-minded about all the possibilities that the evidence reveals, not just the incriminating ones.