Case sent to grand jury, Conner sent back to jail
BY MATTHEW LAKIN
BRISTOL HERALD COURIER
Jan 25, 12:00 AM EST
Chief Petty Officer Keith Patrick Conner
Bristol Herald Courier
GREENEVILLE - Evidence against a Navy recruiter accused of a murder-for-hire plot will stay secret a little longer.
Chief Petty Officer Keith Patrick Conner, 38, appeared briefly in federal court Tuesday - just long enough to waive his rights to bond and to a preliminary hearing on charges of trying to buy a bomb to kill someone.
"This will save us a lot of time," said his lawyer, Nikki Pierce, an assistant federal public defender.
U.S. Magistrate Judge Dennis Inman sent the case to the grand jury and sent Conner back to jail.
Conner, a Gulf War veteran and the senior recruiter for the Navy's office in Bristol Virginia, met an undercover agent for the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives in the parking lot of the Bristol Mall last week and paid $1,000 as a down payment for what he thought was a homemade bomb, authorities said.
He showed up two days later at the Days Inn on West State Street to pick it up, according to court records. Conner put the "bomb" - a fake - in his truck, authorities said, and federal agents put him in handcuffs.
"Our bombs don't work," said Jim Cavanaugh, special agent in charge of the bureau's Nashville office and chief of ATF operations in Tennessee. "But without these agents' hard work, we could very easily have ended up working a bombing fatality."
Skipping the preliminary hearing saved prosecutors from making the evidence against Conner public, including the details of a confession federal agents said he signed and the name of the bomb's intended target.
Federal agents have refused to say who they think Conner wanted to blow up.
"It really doesn't matter who he intended to kill, as long as there's evidence that he tried to buy a bomb," Cavanaugh said.
At the recruiting office in Bristol, Conner's fellow sailors still couldn't believe the news.
"It was a shock to everybody," said Cmdr. Dan Cunningham, his commanding officer. "We've never experienced anything like this. It's like a bad TV show."
Cunningham said he spent the past few days telling Conner's recruits what happened.
"You're dealing mainly with teenagers and 20-year-olds," he said. "They get to know these people. They look up to them."
Conner, a native of the Jacksonville, Fla., area, joined the Navy in 1985. He spent most of his time on ships as a hull technician, doing welding and various repair jobs, before going to work as a recruiter.
He arrived at the Bristol office in April 2003 and recruited 29 sailors during his time there. He last reported for work on Thursday, just a few hours before his arrest.
"He's still in the Navy," Cunningham said. "Right now all I can do is wait and see what route they take with his case."
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Jim Cavanaugh, isn't he one of the guys who was involved with Waco?