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Former city police officer sentenced in blast

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Saturday, June 21, 2008

A former Pittsburgh policeman who was fired after shooting at a big rig during a fit of road rage told a federal judge Friday he didn't mean to hurt anyone when the bombs he was making last year blew off part of his arm.

"I didn't even know what the potential damage was before this happened," said Paul Anthony Palmer Jr., 39, who sports a teardrop tattoo below his right eye and a spider web design over the nub left by the amputation on his left forearm. Investigators claim Palmer's tattoos are typically associated with the Aryan Nations, a white supremacist group whose motto is "violence solves everything."

U.S. District Judge David S. Cercone sentenced Palmer, formerly of North Fayette, to 52 months in prison for his guilty plea to a charge of possessing an unregistered destructive device.

The former police officer faced up to 63 months, but the judge said he imposed a lesser sentence because of Palmer's police service, reports of mental health issues related to sexual abuse and family problems from his childhood and the fact that he injured only himself in the explosion.

"So, there's already been some punishment imposed, not by the court, but by himself," Cercone said.

Defense lawyer James Wymard argued his client deserved leniency due to serving more than 10 years on the police force, which would make him a target behind bars, and the fact Palmer is missing his left hand, which would make it difficult to defend himself if attacked.

On May 1, 2007, Palmer was making explosives inside his Redwood Drive home when static electricity sparked the blast that caused his injury, investigators determined. Palmer told Cercone he was making explosives in cardboard tubes that he planned to detonate with friends as part of a July 4th celebration. He said he'd made small explosives using wax and gun powder that he used to blow up pumpkins.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Shaun Sweeney questioned Palmer's explanation, saying his devices included BB pellets -- which are often used to injure others.

Investigators last year seized from Palmer's house more bomb-making components, ammunition and "a large amount of literature and items commonly associated with white supremacist groups, in particular, the Aryan Nations," according to court documents.

In 2006, Palmer was convicted of aggravated assault for firing seven bullets into a tractor-trailer on the Parkway West in December 2003. Palmer, who was off-duty at the time, reportedly became enraged following a minor traffic incident with the truck driver on Interstate 279 near I-79.

Pittsburgh police fired him five months later.

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