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A father and son's adventure with explosives in December 2016 resulted in both of them being sentenced this week to federal prison terms.

Peter Conrad Mathis, 52, of Batesville and his son, Steven Dale Mathis, both pleaded guilty in January to a single charge of possessing an unregistered destructive device in exchange for the dismissal of three other charges against each man. The dismissed charges included another count of possession of a destructive device and two counts of making illegal devices -- a pipe bomb and an improvised firework.

According to Peter Mathis' attorney, Chris Tarver of the federal public defender's office, the men's troubles began when the father of five found a pipe bomb on the side of the road near Hutchinson Mountain in Independence County. He threw it in the back seat of his car, intending to get rid of it later, but then forgot about it until his son "came across a similar device at the home of a friend and was experimenting with it," Tarver said.

Aware that his son "was always tinkering around with stuff with not the best results including almost blowing himself up with a gas tank while working on a car," Peter Mathis decided to "help" his son, Tarver said. He said "they ended up combining the two devices and intended to take them somewhere and detonate them," but law enforcement officers intervened and arrested both men Dec. 28, 2016.

Although Tarver wrote in a sentencing memo that "there was never any malicious intent or nefarious reason for having the devices," Assistant U.S. Attorney Kristin Bryant argued at the men's sentencing hearings this week that "there's absolutely no legitimate reason for having a pipe bomb and an improvised firework with BB's except to cause harm."

She added that "we were lucky we didn't have to find out" if their story was true. But regardless of the men's intent, Bryant said, "there's no excuse" for carrying around and planning to detonate devices that can maim or kill people. The homemade device was packed with BB's, she said.

The men were first held on state charges before their case was transferred to federal court, and U.S. District Judge D. Price Marshall Jr. took that into account in sentencing them -- the father Tuesday and the son Thursday.

In the hearing Thursday, Steven Mathis' mother and two sisters testified on his behalf, calling him a hard-worker who overcame some legal troubles and drug abuse in his younger years and now helps other troubled young people. Defense attorney Leslie Borgognoni argued that the "misguided adventure" could have been prevented if the senior Mathis had used better judgment and deterred, rather than joined, his son's experiment.

Marshall sentenced the elder Mathis to 15 months in prison and his son to a year and a day, which will entitle him to be released after about nine months if he is on good behavior while behind bars. Both sentences fell below the ranges recommended by federal sentencing guidelines, which the judge agreed were too harsh for the circumstances.


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Metro on 05/18/2018

Print Headline: Dad, son sentenced for bomb possession

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