Bomb suspect disrupts court proceeding Preston H. Lit barked like a dog and mocked the judge during a detention hearing. He is accused of 3 scares in N.E. Phila.

Posted: May 22, 2002

Just four days after a court-appointed psychiatrist found him mentally competent, accused Northeast mail bomber Preston H. Lit yesterday disrupted his federal detention hearing: loudly mocking the judge and lawyers, barking like a dog, and finally flipping over a large wooden courtroom table.

Lit, 53, screamed loudly as three deputy marshals wrestled him facedown to the floor, handcuffed him, and led him before his distraught sister and startled spectators to a courthouse holding cell.

"Preston, stop it!" yelled one older man, a friend of the family who would not give his name.

"Oh, Preston. Oh, God. He's so sick," sobbed Lit's sister, who has also refused to give her name.

The dramatic end of Lit's federal detention hearing came after a 45-minute proceeding that Lit regularly interrupted. U.S. Magistrate Judge M. Faith Angell warned Lit three times that she would stop the hearing if he did not remain seated and quiet.

Angell determined that authorities had "probable cause" to justify Lit's arrest last Wednesday on charges of threatening to mail an explosive device and willful obstruction of the mail. She also granted a motion to detain Lit without bail pending trial because he is a "danger to the community" and likely to flee.

Angell concurred with the recommendation of Assistant U.S. Attorney Nancy Beam Winter and federal defender Leigh Skipper that Lit undergo continuing psychiatric evaluation and treatment.

Police believe Lit is the person who put a nail bomb in a curbside mailbox at Princeton and Summerdale Avenues on May 13. The bomb included notes that read "Free Palestine" and the misspelled "Al Queda." Police exploded the device, and no one was injured.

The next day, a mail carrier emptying a box at Bustleton Avenue and Mower Street found a pair of sneakers stuffed with paper and twine, including cards on which were written "Free Palestine" and the same incorrectly spelled "Al Queda."

Lit was arrested last Wednesday afternoon after specially trained FBI bloodhounds followed a trail from the exploded bomb to his house on the 1700 block of Bergen Street, and after he allegedly was seen driving up to a house on Hoffnagle Street in the Rhawnhurst section of the city and dumping trash on its front yard.

Authorities, who had been looking for Lit after a neighbor wrote down the vehicle's license plate, say the dumped trash included books belonging to Lit and papers with the same misspelled "Al Queda."

Lit also has been linked to letters to President Bush and Gov. Schweiker that contained newspaper articles about the May 13 bomb incident and identified the sender as "TPK," "The Philly Kid," and "The Palestine King."

FBI agent Richard Osteen testified yesterday that the letters had a return address of a Southampton, Bucks County, post office box rented by Lit.

Angell said forensic psychiatrist Pogos H. Voskanian examined Lit on Friday and wrote a report yesterday finding Lit mentally competent.

But at the federal pretrial stage, that determination has a low threshold: The defendant must only be able to understand the nature of the court proceeding and cooperate with a defense attorney.

Lit met that test yesterday, although barely.

He objected loudly over Skipper and federal defender Elizabeth Hey, told the judge he wanted to fire them, and referred to Angell as "Supreme Court Justice Joseph Novelli," a character in the CBS television series First Monday.

He said FBI agent Osteen should be arrested for interfering with U.S. mail - "The President never got that letter!" - and began barking and sniffing loudly when Osteen testified about the bloodhounds that followed the scent trail to Lit's house.

He winked at and flirted with a female FBI agent and deputy marshal, told a deputy guarding him to "get yourself some Viagra," and repeatedly turned to reporters in the audience, held up a small vest-pocket copy of the New Testament, and pretended he was taking pictures.

Ultimately, he tossed the small book across the room and then upended the heavy 8-foot-long wooden counsel table, sending his lawyers' papers spilling across the floor.

Federal authorities have said there is no evidence that Lit is involved with extremist political groups, although the Secret Service has watched him since 1991, when he wrote several suspicious, odd letters to the White House.

Contact Joseph A. Slobodzian at 215-854-2658 or jslobodzian@phillynews.com.

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