Skip to main content

Man pleads guilty to placing bomb at MLK parade in Washington state

By Carol Cratty, CNN Senior Producer
  • Kevin William Harpham, 37, is a white supremacist, says he meant harm, document says
  • He's accused of trying to use a weapon of mass destruction, commit a federal hate crime
  • Backpack with bomb, shrapnel, anticoagulant was found, traced to Harpham
  • He faces up to 32 years in prison at November 30 sentencing

Washington (CNN) -- A man pleaded guilty Wednesday to placing a backpack with an improvised explosive device along the parade route of a Martin Luther King Day parade last January in Spokane, Washington.

The Justice Department said Kevin William Harpham, 37, an unemployed electrician from Colville, Washington, agreed to plead guilty to attempted use of a weapon of mass destruction and attempting to commit a federal hate crime.

The plea agreement document signed by Harpham describes him as a white supremacist and says he wanted to hurt people at the MLK Day parade "to further his racist beliefs."

The backpack containing the device was discovered, and no one was injured. But law enforcement officials said that if Harpham had succeeded, many people could have been harmed. Harpham had packed a 6-inch steel pipe with 100 grams of black powder and more than 100 fishing weights, which were intended to be shrapnel.

In addition, Harpham coated the weights with an anticoagulant. According to court documents, he intended to set off his bomb using a transmitter and receiver from a remote car starter device.

The plea agreement says Harpham's DNA was matched to the backpack; investigators tracked his purchase of the fishing weights to a local Walmart store and an Internet buy of the remote triggering mechanism; and they retrieved a camera from his home that contained pictures Harpham had taken of himself at the march. Security camera and news media footage also placed Harpham at the site of the march.

In a written statement, Thomas Perez, the assistant attorney general for civil rights, said: "Hate-fueled incidents like this one have no place in a civilized society." And Laura Laughlin, special agent in charge of the FBI's Seattle office, said: "The placement of an explosive device in a crowded public area is horrific at any time, but this attack, planned to occur during an event celebrating the bonds of our community, makes it all the more reprehensible." Officials estimated that 2,000 people attended the MLK Day parade.

Harpham is scheduled to be sentenced on November 30. The plea agreement between prosecutors and defense lawyers calls for a sentence of 27 to 32 years in prison, but a judge will ultimately decide his sentence. He could have faced up to life in prison if convicted of all charges laid out in an earlier indictment.