Friday, November 28, 2008

Men Accused in Obama Plot Plead Not Guilty

By WOODY BAIRD | Associated Press Writer

JACKSON, Tenn. (AP) - Two white supremacists charged with plotting to kill President-elect Barack Obama and dozens of other black people pleaded not guilty Wednesday to new criminal charges added to an earlier federal indictment.

Daniel Cowart, 20, of rural West Tennessee and Paul Schlesselman, 18, of Helena-West Helena, Ark., entered the pleas on firearms and conspiracy charges. They were originally indicted on Nov. 5, but a new indictment, with three additional charges, was handed up by a federal grand jury on Nov. 20.

Wearing black and white striped jail uniforms with chains around their ankles, the two stood silent before Magistrate Diane Vescovo except to say "Yes, ma'am" when asked if they understood the new charges. Not guilty pleas were entered by lawyers.

Cowart and Schlesselman are being held without bond and no trial date has been set. Their next scheduled court appearance is Dec. 12 in Jackson, about 75 miles north of Memphis. At that hearing lawyers are to discuss a timetable for further court proceedings.

Cowart and Schlesselman are accused of plotting a robbery and killing spree targeting African-Americans that was to culminate with an attack on Obama. A federal affidavit says the two planned to dress up in white tuxedoes and top hats and attack Obama by blasting with firearms from a speeding car.

Joe Byrd, Cowart's lawyer, said outside the courtroom that he has seen no evidence his client could have carried out such attack.

"It tells me we're not dealing with Lee Harvey Oswald," Byrd said.

Prosecutors refused to comment on the case, as did the federal public defenders office which is representing Schlesselman.

Authorities describe Schlesselman and Cowart as white supremacist skinheads. They were initially arrested last month by local authorities investigating reports of a window being shot out at an unoccupied, predominantly black church.

They are accused of possessing a sawed-off shotgun, carrying guns across state lines to commit crimes of violence, planning to rob a licensed firearm dealer and threatening a presidential candidate.

The new indictment includes a charge of conspiring to violate the civil rights of African-Americans and two firearms charges against Cowart related to the church shooting.

Byrd refused comment on the shooting except to say, "There is some point at which there's a gulf separating malice and stupidity."

Cowart is charged with nine criminal offenses while Schlesselman is charged with seven. The charges each carry maximum penalties of five to 20 years in prison plus fines of $250,000.

Copyright 2008 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


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